Dear Kids, Here's What I Want You To Know
Recently, I had a conversation with a couple of friends about how I'm glad my kids are getting a little older and more independent. I even admitted out loud, that the baby or toddler stages were never really my thing, and that I white knuckled it through most of those years. I knew it was only temporary and that we could handle anything for awhile. Mostly, and in spite of a crapload of chaos that came our way, we did. Although I wouldn't give myself any awards for being the best baby momma on the planet, our kids came out of the baby/toddler years relatively unscathed. At least it seems that way so far.
I've always known I would be a better parent to older kids. You know, the kind who can rationalize, at least some of the time. Don't get me wrong, I love kids! I spent over two decades working with them in some capacity. Babies? Of course they're adorable. It's just that they're even more adorable when I don't have to wake up at 2 a.m. to feed them, or worry every five minutes about why there's no noise coming from the other room. I prefer it when those are someone else's problems to deal with. So now that our kids are at that (sometimes) rational stage - almost 12 and 9, I'm loving it in so many ways. But truthfully, I'm also panicking a little.
I'm panicking because although I feel like we're doing a decent job most days, I know that there will soon come a time when E&M will be out in the world, having experiences and being faced with hard decisions. They won't always have us right there to help them make a better choice when their judgement is questionable and their rationality is being thwarted by hormones, peer pressure and unrealistic or unhealthy societal expectations. So what's a parent to do?
I just don't have the energy or desire to keep them in a bubble for the next 20 years. Plus, I've known too many people whose parents tried to protect them from the world until they couldn't anymore. They set overly strict rules, sheltered them from all bad news, and put crazy pressure on them to be 'good boys and girls'. Or, they never called their kids on their bad behaviour, never made them be accountable for their actions, and instead made excuses and let them off the hook every time the kid messed up. Those are the people who went away to college or university, or moved out and LOST THEIR MINDS! You know the ones. Their first taste of independence and they had no clue how to handle it. Either because they had never known freedom, or they were taught that they could do whatever the hell they wanted without concern for consequences. Or maybe, because nobody was ever really paying attention. Which sucks on a whole other level.
I feel like it's our job as parents, not to shelter our kids from reality, but rather to equip them to cope with it confidently, intelligently and compassionately. So, mostly in an effort to stave off my panic, but also because I love them and want them to grow into happy, healthy, compassionate, free thinking, functional adults, I've decided there are a few things I really want my kids to know, before they start spreading their wings and leaving the nest unsupervised for longer stretches of time. Gulp!
We've been driving a lot of these points home with our kids already, but I figure it doesn't hurt to have it all in writing. You know, especially for those occasions when they've really messed up (because they will) and I am so beside myself (because I will be), that I'm not able to string together a coherent sentence that isn't....'What the hell were you thinking?!' I figure when that happens (because it will), then we'll all have this to refer to and to remind me (and them) that I do actually know how to be a reasonable, calm, fair, loving and mindful parent....despite the crazed lunatic that I may be acting like at the time.
So kids, here's what I want you to know....
I want you to know, that NO MATTER WHAT – I love you unconditionally. As I've told you many times, you can always come to me or your dad with anything. We may not always like what you have to say, and we may not always agree with it, but it will not make us love you any less. No matter what it is, we'll deal.
I want you to know, that the above statement does NOT translate to me giving you permission to behave in deplorable, intolerant ways. You WILL mess up, because everyone does and that's normal. But you do not have cart blanche to go out and be an asshole in the world. Which I doubt you'd do anyway, but just so we're clear. (Side note: You DO have my permission to keep each other from being assholes in the world. Siblings should always look out for each other. Unconditional love applies here too. But you knew that already, right?).
I want you to know, that the only rules you need to follow, are the ones that keep you and others safe, and the ones that require you to be respectful of yourself and of others. Rules like - you must go to university if you want to have a future, or you must dress seriously to be taken seriously, or you must make a certain amount of money to be considered important, or you must work in a 'stable/normal' job with a pension, or you must subscribe to certain beliefs because your parents do, or you must get married, have kids, buy a house....etc. THOSE are arbitrary rules, set by fearful, unhappy people....and you are not required to follow any of them...unless you want to. Whatever feeds your heart and soul and makes you feel good on the inside, do that.
I want you to know, that despite the above statement, we may run into what you might consider 'grey areas'. So, if you're contemplating piercing your entire face, covering your neck in tattoos of spiders, getting a job at a strip club, dating a Kardashian, marrying Justin Bieber, working for Donald Trump or joining the Church of Scientology....those all fall under the category of, 'rules to keep you/others safe and requiring you to be respectful of yourself and others (but mostly yourself)' - and we will definitely have to talk.
I want you to know, that if you want other people to love and respect you, then you have to love and respect yourself first. This means, you look inside for validation, not to the external world. It's a toughie. We all want to 'fit in' sometimes, but that should NEVER be at the expense of your self worth. If it feels icky, no matter how external people or circumstances are pressuring you, DON'T DO IT! I promise you, if you do, you'll regret it later. And I don't mean that in an, 'I'll kick your ass later', kind of way. I mean that in a, 'you will feel crappy about yourself and wish you hadn't', kind of way. And that's the worst.
I want you to know, that sheep lead boring lives. This is kind of a continuation of the above point, but still, never be sheep! Sheep just go around mindlessly following the herd. If the herd happens to be doing something that looks fun to you, then by all means, try it. Just remember that whole feeding your heart and soul thing. And the thing about safety and respect. But don't' do it just because everyone else is. So for example, if the new issue of Teen Vogue is telling you that orange is totally over this year and everyone who's anyone is covering themselves head to toe in blue, but you hate blue.....Well, screw the latest trends! If you love orange and it makes you feel awesome – wear the hell out of it, and leave blue for the sheep. Or, if everyone is supporting Todd for student council president, but you think that's just because he has good parties and they all want to get invited, and you actually believe that Jane would make a much better SC president, then no matter what your friends are doing, cast your ballot for Jane. Even if she doesn't win, you'll feel like you did the right thing by not being sheep. That's called integrity. And it's the best.
I want you to know, that stuff is going to happen in life that you never saw coming. Stuff that will knock you on your ass. Stuff that might mess with your head and/or your heart. Stuff that you think at the time, you'll never survive. This is called being human. Everyone goes through it. The good news is that it doesn't last forever. Nothing does. You would do well to adopt the mantra, 'This too shall pass'.
I also want you to know, that when the shit does hit the fan (and it will) that you will try to handle it (because you are your parents' children). But, if you ever feel that the pressure is just too much, then please know, there is no shame in admitting it and in asking for help. People want to help you, just find the courage to ask.
Mostly I want you to know, that no matter what challenges, experiences, or crossroads you are faced with, the power of free will is always in your hands. This is the greatest power in the world. And you have it...yep you! That's a lot of responsibility, so use it wisely. Think before you act. Consider the consequences. Follow your gut instincts and always, I mean always, choose to be the hero of your life and not the victim. If you do, things won't be perfect, because this is life and by definition it's not perfect, but you will feel pretty damn good about yourself. Not in the, 'I am the best and the rest of you suck' kind of way, but in the quiet, confident, 'I got this', inner knowing kind of way. And that's all I could ever hope for both of you.
Kids, in case you don't want to read all of the above, I've taken the liberty of making you this short 'cheat list'. Note: in any other circumstance, cheating is not approved of (in case that was a grey area). This way, no excuses, including short attention span, for not knowing what I want you to know. Also, I reserve the right to add to this document as I see fit. Just so we're clear.
1. You are loved unconditionally – No exceptions
2. You will mess up and that's o.k. - But you never have permission to be an asshole
intentionally. And you WILL look out for each other
3. Safety and respect for yourself and others - The only 'must follow' rules
4. If you encounter a grey area – Ask before taking action
5. Love yourself first and others will follow - Regret is the worst
6. Don't be sheep - Integrity is the best
7. Bad shit will happen – This too shall pass
8. If you can't handle it on your own, there is no shame - Ask for help if you need it
9. You possess the power of free will – Always use it to be the hero, never the victim