Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Secret Formula?

Today, I am thinking about the future. I find myself looking at my little ones and wondering what they will become. At dinner with my mom and sisters the other night, we were discussing raising children. How do you raise them to be good people? How do you teach them to do the right thing? How do you get to a point where you can let go of them and trust that they will make good decisions? The conclusion we came to? We simply do not know the secret formula. You try your best…and hope and pray that it sticks. It’s a crap shoot, I believe….a conclusion that is not at all comforting.

I have a cousin who is a couple years younger than I am. We grew up with her and her brother. We were constantly together as children. She was given everything in life. Everything a child ever needed or wanted, she had. She had parents who adored her. Though they certainly weren’t wealthy, she enjoyed financial stability growing up. I am sure she was read to and played with and encouraged every day. I was so jealous of her as a kid because she had everything in the world I wanted. She got pregnant her senior year of high school. After that, she went on to get married several times to a handful of different men. She has been with abusive men. She has been with incarcerated men. She has two children now who are being raised by her mother because she is too messed up on drugs to care for them…or apparently about them. (Joni—if you are reading this, I think you are amazing for what you are doing for Samantha and Morgan!). She’s been given every opportunity to change…to mend her ways. But she continually makes bad decisions. I am not sure that she will ever get her life back together. So what caused her to be this way?

I also enjoyed a relatively picture-perfect childhood…up until I was 10 years old. When I was 10, the oldest of four kids, my dad developed a brain tumor. It was a quick and lethal and he died shortly after I turned 11. For years after that, I would listen to my mom cry herself to sleep every night. Prior to that point, she had never had a fulltime job. She went from being taken care of by my grandparents to being taken care of by my dad….a guy she met when she was 9 years old and he was 13. She did not have the means to care for four young children on her own. In essence, I came from a broken home. Perhaps not broken in the typical sense of the word, but something definitely “broke” in all five of us the day my dad died. Eventually, my mother enrolled herself in college and graduated the same year I graduated from high school. Throughout my entire high school years, my mom worked fulltime and went to school fulltime. My three siblings and I spent a lot of time at home alone. Times were lean, to say the least. The bill collectors were fervent and determined. We learned to say that mom wasn’t home…even when she was. My grandparents helped us out. Our church helped us out. My sister Amy and I took care of the two younger kids when mom was at work or school. We had a lot of free time on our hands. We had plenty of opportunity to get into trouble. We had the means. We had the motive…we had every right to be angry and rebel. But we were good kids. We’re still good kids. As I look back on my adolescent self, I wonder why. WHY were we good? Don’t get me wrong…we made stupid decisions….we got into trouble occasionally. But our “trouble” was minor…things every teenager does. All in all, we were good.

So what was the difference between us and my cousin? What is the secret formula to raising good kids? I look at my own children and I worry. Sophie is just like me as a kid…but she also has a defiant streak a mile long. Will that get her into trouble eventually? Lucas is a happy child…always joking and playing. But he’s my sweet, sensitive one. He struggles with anxiety at times….a lot of the time. Will anxiety get the better of him and fuel his decisions? Nicholas is my baby. He’s a follower. He worships his older brother and cousin. Will he eventually be a leader, or will he be a follower his entire life? Who will he follow…and to what end? I worry. I fret. I look at my aunt Joni, who I adore, and I think…if she can have a kid that messed up, what chance in hell do I have of raising good kids?! I don’t know….

Parenthood is the great unknown, I guess. I worship my children. I try to teach them right from wrong. I tell them I love them. I kiss them and hug them often. All I can do, like any parent, is hope that it is enough.


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