Fear of Disappointment As A Parent

Kurt turns eighteen tomorrow and I have no idea how we made it this far or any concept of how I should have parented him. That’s not ‘parent guilt’ talking, just a reflection on how challenging parenting is, because every child is custom-made with different needs and the chances are we may never get it right.

English: Fork in the road at Brill
English: Fork in the road at Brill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned so much from the ‘bad parenting’ group I’ve been attending recently. I’ve learned that however complicated your journey with your child, maintaining a good relationship with them must remain the priority. It’s made me think hard about the roller coaster of emotions I’ve experienced during Kurt’s teenage years, since the rot first set in. The disappointment, the blame and the shame. I realize that fear of disappointment has driven me to parent my son is a way that was unsuited to his personality.

With the pressures of life, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of expectation, of nagging, trying to force our own desires onto our children, but I now understand that no amount of nagging will repair Kurt’s selective hearing. He has always chosen to be the master of his own destiny and if that destiny is not quite what we envisaged when we cooed at him in the crib – so be it.

What I want most of all now is to be able to communicate with him again, to make him understand that in spite of all those cross words, rash accusations and his very different attitude to life to mine, that I’m not disappointed in him.

I’d like to reassure him that not all parents have a narrow, tunneled vision about their kids’ futures or need a golden child as the end product; whatever that is. Not all of us see a university education, white-collar office job and the girl-next-door as the perfect daughter-in-law, as the ultimate goal or mark of success.

But being a typical teenager, Kurt bolts the minute he sniffs the first sign of a ‘serious conversation’ evolving. Sometimes it feels as though the only time we exchange dialogue now is when he asks me what’s for dinner – usually around lunchtime.

I sense that many of Kurt’s recent, controversial life decisions have come about because he considers himself a disappointment to us. He believes that he constantly lets us down and then poor self-esteem exacerbates that notion leading to an unbreakable cycle.

He seems to forget that we were teenagers once; that once upon a time we too had to learn to control our emotions, learn to manage our anger and frustration at what we considered to be our parents’ ridiculous demands, and ultimately had to learn from the mistakes we made, too. One of the main benefits of being a teenager living at home is having the freedom to make those mistakes with the safety-net of parents.

The irony is, that Kurt, like so many teenagers who bury themselves away in a self-imposed exile of isolation, isn’t a failure or a disappointment to us. We know exactly how much our boy has to offer, if he’d only believe it himself. That’s the most frustrating part. He can’t see the warm, vibrant personality that people gravitate towards; the huge warmth in his smile and self-effacing wit; his natural musical talent, or even that his impulsiveness can be strangely infectious.

Yet, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I have grieved at times, as his parent. Some of his choices have bought us scarily close to every parent’s worst nightmare of potentially serious consequences. How many times have the old man and I dared to utter to one another that things can’t possibly get any worse, for our son to then ram his behavior up another notch?

Sadly, Kurt seems incapable of discerning anything positive about himself, and because we aren’t saints, just human parents, with the standard moral codes that most people adhere to, we probably haven’t encouraged him to. We’ve been too busy putting out his fires, praying secretly that one day we will change him to be more like us.

Society heaps so many impossible expectations on our teenagers these days and it would be hard for them not to absorb some of the intensity of that pressure. The ones who scale the teenage phase unharmed are the ones who develop good coping skills along the way; but there are other kids who require more scaffolding. Accusing teenagers of being ‘entitled’ reeks of disappointment, but if that term does hold any truth, perhaps we need to ask why, and take some responsibility for it. This generation of young adults are the guinea pigs of social media and have spent their short lives constantly comparing themselves to their peers and celebrities and seek unattainable perfection in everything they do.

Such mounting expectation inevitably detonates an implosion in the weaker ones.

I’d like to tell Kurt that we changed our expectations for him a long time ago – because we grew up, too. We didn’t lower our expectations for him; rather, we customized them to him when we realized that traditional expectations weren’t the right fit; we adapted them to his skill base.

I wish that during all the recent dysfunctionality in our relationship, when we were wading through that torrent of swirling water that is now thankfully under the bridge, I wish I hadn’t lost sight of who Kurt was, hadn’t allowed myself to forget the beautiful qualities about our son. We’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about being disappointed, been blindfolded by what he should be, at times, rather than embracing who he is. We were fearful of how people would judge us for raising this wild child who refused to conform to society’s ‘normal’ codes of behavior. We should have given him the benefit of the doubt, allowed him the time to mature properly and work out for himself which direction to take next.

Tomorrow Kurt turns eighteen and commences the next stage of his life, and then on Monday he takes a new direction. I hope it takes him where he wants to go. Kurt has never taken the obvious side of the fork in the road, but from this point on I am going to change my outlook and consider his choices as ‘surprising’; never ‘disappointing.’

Ten Things You Should Never Tell Your Kids (Revised)

Woman’s Day have set the cat among the pigeons with their insightful comments regarding how we should be talking to our kids. I’m a huge advocate of ingesting the generous source of great parenting advice available on the Internet, especially as a wannabe ‘perfect parent’.

However.

Ten Things You Should Never Tell Your Kids

This is my alternative guide:

  1. Try, Try AgainI Know You Can Try Harder – apparently this subtle form of coaching can be discouraging to your child. LEGIT? Of course you need  to point out the obvious if your child is under-performing and embarassing the family gene pool. How dare they squander their talents! If you don’t have high expectations for your child, how else are they going to impress their peers and the parents of their peers (leading to lots of high-brow, pretentious networking between aforementioned sets of parents without having to organise one single coffee morning)? This is not a criticism, what you’re really saying is, ‘get your ass into gear, buddy’, and in my opinion, sometimes going a bit Victorian is ok. It’s not manipulative to say, ‘you’re a bright kid, so don’t waste your talent and my time.’ Maybe it won’t motivate them, but ignoring the fact that they’re lazy buggers isn’t going to either.
  2. Food MattersAre You Sure You Need That Second Cupcake? I love this example. In today’s arena of political correctness (yawn), it’s frowned upon to draw attention to the extra kilos your kids shouldn’t be carrying because Macdonalds is cheap and easy. I’ve read all that perfect-parenting advice, and the concern regarding body image issues relating to adolescent girls in particular. Apparently, commenting on their weight or diet issues is worse than mentioning the colour of someone’s skin these days . But if your child is getting picked on for being a bit ‘porky’, surely they need to be educated? I remember talking to my daughter in pc euphemisms about the need to get ‘fitter’ and ‘choosing healthier options’ when she started getting a bit pudgy around the middle, and she’s thanked me ever since.
  3. Absolutely WrongYou ‘always’ or you ‘never’ – this is one of my cardinal sins in parenting. I must use this expression a minimum of 30 times a day. ‘Why do you ‘always’ have to leave the milk out?’, ‘why can you ‘never’ tell me the truth?’, ‘why do you ‘always’ side with the kids?’, ( said to the old man). For some reason it makes me feel infinitely better to vocalize my frustration with that little exaggerated emphasis so that the family really knows just how awful they can be. I probably am really (and inadvertently) alluding to my inadequacies as a parent/wife and the frustrations therein, because I can’t get the little horrors to remember anything I tell them; but it’s bloody frustrating when they ‘always’ make the same mistakes.  ‘Can you ‘never’ flush the toilet?’ is my most common whine; agreed, it doesn’t change diddlysquat but it makes me feel better. If I suggested to the kids, ‘why don’t we work on this together?’ when they forget to flush the toilet, they’d be completely grossed out. Maybe the right approach would be to make them clean the toilet?
  4. Beyond ReasonBecause I said so! Love it, love it, love it! This form of solid, in-depth reasoning was how my own mother raised me and why I respected her authority. I accepted it without question (probably to avoid corporal punishment, which was standard practice then). This comment did not censure my ability to think or figure things out for myself; she made the decisions and took the responsibility, and if I questioned her logic, she could smack. We were the mute generation, seen and not heard.  If she ‘said so’, who was I to challenge it? In an ideal world, it would be great to have the time to give a full explanation every time your child asked ‘why’ in domestic combat or when you have to say ‘no’ for the twentieth time of the day, but few of us are paragons of virtue.
  5. Told You SoI told you waiting until the last minute was a mistake. Well you did tell them, didn’t you? And you can’t be fairer than that. They were lucky to get a warning. It’s a well-known fact that procrastination nearly always has consequences and it’s a lesson better learned early and before they hit the workplace.
  6. Such Great HeightsYou’re the best at soccer! A few years ago we were supposed to shower our kids with praise (no matter how inadequate they were) to avoid self-esteem issues. These days it’s wrong to big up your child’s strengths in case it sets them up for a fall later. WTF! Fully supportive parents celebrate the achievements of their children and begrudge the achievements of other children – fact. Apparently, building impossible mountains for them to climb can create anxiety. Diddums’! It’s a tough world out there with fierce competition, and that’s without considering the implications of  ‘survival of the fittest’ (think Hunger Games). Shouldn’t we be building them up? Did Richard Branson and Steve Jobs succeed through ‘trying their best’?
  7. Smooth OverDon’t worry, the first day at school will be fine. You’re not supposed to lie to your kids at all, you have to now say it how it is; even the ‘little white’ versions to protect them, can be interpreted as massaging the truth, thereby being disrespectful of their opinions. If something is going to be truly ‘wetting-their-pants’ awful, they need to know, to prepare. By manipulating the truth, you are dismissing the value of their feelings! You need to ‘discuss’ their worries, hug it out, and then feed them to the lions.
  8. Pal AroundI wish you didn’t hang around with Jack. I actually partly agree with this one because in my experience, the more you demonize those revolting friends, the more your kids canonize them. I used to watch a bi-lingual friend of mine welcome new kids to her house, and then in Spanish say to her kids, ‘what have you bought this little shit home for’? Our social skills develop from spending time with different people, good and bad. The old man’s mother used to say to him, ‘Get rid of her,’ all the time, but I’m still here, bitch.
  9. Don’t DIYThat’s not how you do it, here let me. I once took pity on the kids who wanted to be involved with Christmas so I invited them to help me dress the Christmas Tree, thinking I could trust their creative judgement. The tree ended up looking like Santa had reversed over the tree with his sleigh, several times. They’d even hung those terrible school-made decorations on it, and I had to organise colour blindness tests for both of them not long after. It was an assault on the senses in all the worst ways. The following year I bought a separate Christmas tree for the playroom and one for each of their bedrooms.
  10. Spare the CompareWhy can’t you be more like your brother/sister? This is done in the belief that the child who is being criticized might begin to develop the desired qualities of the other sibling, and sometimes it works. What’s wrong with sibling rivalry? It’s why ‘only’ children are so self-centred and can’t share. Being the eldest I was obviously intellectually superior, (apparently the eldest gets the higher IQ, height and parental care), nevertheless, being compared to perfection instilled the ‘survival’ instinct in my siblings, the desire to succeed, for no other reason than to knock me off my perch. Labeling can be negative but if the comparison is balanced between siblings,  I don’t really see a problem.

Some of my ‘gems’ that you might consider employing to achieve that goal of ‘perfect parent’:

‘You know you’ll get biscuit cancer if you eat that many biscuits?’

‘One day you’ll know what it’s like to have children like you’.

‘Sometimes I really wonder where you came from.’

‘I think it’s time to call the adoption agency’.

‘Do you want to be the fattest boy in Sydney?’

NO CHILDREN WERE HARMED IN THE EXPERIMENTATION TO DEVISE THESE EXPERT TIPS.

Naughty Kids Faces by Simply Cupcake – Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com