In my mid- to late-20's, I witnessed my two youngest siblings (8 and 12 years younger) being disrespectful to my parents in ways I would never have dreamed of behaving. Frustrated, I asked my dad why he let them get away with it. He told me he was tired. In my infinite wisdom, I remember telling him - very haughtily - that he couldn’t quit being a parent just because he was tired.
Fast-forward 25 years. I apologized to my dad because now I understand. Now that I'm actually a parent, and not just the oldest sibling, I understand how tiring parenting can be.
Our oldest, now 23, wanted to be a social butterfly. She drove me crazy almost every day of her life from 8 to 21. Drama was her modus operandi. If you would have told me when she was 16 that one day we would be close, I wouldn't have hesitated to call you a liar. Our youngest, now 19, was totally different: quiet, athletic, and too smart for his own good. No drama, thankfully, but he holds everything close inside. It’s like pulling teeth to get anything out of him at all. Today, my daughter and I are close enough that she can at times be too honest with me, but I am thankful for our relationship. Our son, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with me outside of the creature comforts in life: food, laundry, and more food. I hope, in time, he will be more willing to spend time with his parents.
Psychologist Carl Pickhardt calls the 18-23 age group the Fourth Stage of Adolescence: Trial independence. At this last stage of adolescence, parents must change their role from being MANAGERS (providing supervision and regulation) to becoming MENTORS (providing consultation and advice—when asked).
When asked? That's it? I think I've failed that part... Changing from a manager to a mentor is difficult, particularly for bossy first-borns like myself. Why can't my kids just learn from MY mistakes? I've told them many times what not to do. Why do they have to find out for themselves? I could save them so much grief, if only they would listen!
As our children become adults, they question our parenting skills. As parents, we may question our own skills. There are no instruction manuals for parenthood. We’ve made mistakes, particularly with the first-born. We may adjust for the next child, only to discover that each child is different and what worked with one doesn't work with, or apply to, the next. I believe the ways we parent our children are directly related to how we were parented. If we agree with how we were raised, then we may use the same rules or guidelines for our children. If we disagree, then we change the rules to try to manipulate our children into different behaviors. But the bottom line is our own parents are a huge influence on each of us.
In my current WIP, working title Fugitive Heart, my heroine has a younger half-sister whom she adores and resents at the same time, due to the family circumstances.
“Dad, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.” Dana scowled at her reflection in the hallway mirror. He would call when she had no idea where the heck Christy was.
“How’s my girl? Are you and Christy having a good time together?” His jovial voice boomed from the receiver.
“We haven’t had a chance to do much yet, Dad. Christy is busy catching up with Cara.” She crossed her fingers and hoped she didn’t get struck down for the lie.
“Cara Mason? I didn’t leave her there so she could hang out with that crazy girl. She needs to be spending more time with you, learning to be responsible and hard-working.”
“Dad, I hardly think teaching her to be responsible and hard-working is my responsibility, now is it?” she retorted.
Silence from the other end. Now she’d done it. Just because she’d thought it didn’t mean she should have said it out loud, not to her dad and especially not that way. But it was the truth, and she couldn’t quite force herself to take back the words and apologize.
He cleared his throat and sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Dana. You’re right. She’s not your responsibility. We’ll change our plans and come get her. We’re in Arizona so it will take us a couple days to get there.”
“Dad, no. No, it’s fine. I love Christy, you know that. I just meant she needs to have fun and hang out with her friends sometimes.” Besides, you can’t come home now because I don’t know where she is.
Being a parent - of children or characters - can be extremely tiring, but it is also extremely rewarding.
Have you written your parenting experiences into your books? Please share!