It takes real-life work to grow a kid up

Parents are funny things – we all seem to have the same fears regarding our children.

We bring these little humans into the world, knowing full well human beings are not easily molded and shaped. Yet we persist in seeing these little people as extensions and reflections of who we are, and try to turn them into something they might not want to be.

Then, when we are sure the phrase, “Do you want fries with that?” is going to be the entirety of their business lexicon, we despair.

“What will people think?”

Don’t lie – you know that phrase has crossed your mind more than once in relation to your kid(s). Us big human beings, having sworn we would never, ever be our mother (or father, as the gender case may be), turn around and try to make “Mini Me’s” out of our babies. We see them as an extension of our values and beliefs, so if they screw up, we think the world is pointing a finger at us and yelling, “J’accuse! You are a BAD PARENT!”

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d rather be a serial killer than a BAD PARENT.

A casual conversation with an acquaintance when my kids were younger got me thinking. He was despairing about his 15-year-old son’s lack of motivation, dislike of reading, and general ne’er-do-well attitude. His mind was filled with visions of his progeny either living on Dad’s couch for the next 30 years, or spending weekends performing community service for the law enforcement community.

I relate and empathize with him. Because for a long while, I had a daughter who’s entire vocabulary revolved around the motto, “High potential, low achiever.” There goes that finger, wagging in my head – “Bad parent!”

She didn’t get the concept of “homework” – the teacher assigned it, she didn’t do it. Or she did it, but didn’t turn it in. Her punishment for teachers she didn’t get along with – not doing the assignments. That’ll teach ‘em. Her GPA was lower than – well, it was low. Leave it at that.

I fought, argued, demanded, yelled, cried, screamed, grounded, ordered, ignored, and cringed at the thought my daughter might end up being the queen of food stamps. When she asked to take on a part-time job at age 17, her parents hesitated. Her grades were okay, but she’d never been one to smoke the academic community and her participation in family activities and chores was nil. Would a job make her even worse?

But we caved in the face of her resistance (pouting and slamming doors can wear down even the best of us). And she became a McDonald’s diva.

And I am finding it was probably the best decision we have ever made, even if we made it by default.

After six months in fast food, she decided “Would you like to super size that?” is not the key to success or even happiness. Suddenly, college looked really good to her, and she began researching in earnest. Her homework was done before it was due, and her grades climbed (a
3.4 GPA looks really good after a 1.3, believe me).

And it wasn’t just school that benefited. Although chores didn’t get done in a timely manner without nagging, she became much less like a pouty teen and more like an adult. It’s hard to define where the changes are, because a lot of it has to do with her attitude towards authority – represented by me – and family and life in general. She was much less me-centered than I remember being at 17. And I actually caught her reading Time magazine and watching The Discovery Channel – and there was no school assignment attached to either.

Isn’t that a ‘grown-up’ thing, this wanting to be informed about the world, just to be informed about the world?

She’s gotten a great sense of money and what things cost – not just the monetary price tag, but the man-hours involved in any endeavor. You can’t talk that kind of lesson into a kid – he or she has to figure it out by themselves. Some kids never do.

So that spectra of a skeleton hand shaking in my face and the eternity in Mommy Dearest purgatory is fading.

And now, I get to watch the remake – she has three daughters, one of whom has the same pouty teenage face (she’s 6) and a “don’t tell me what to do” attitude. Pass me the popcorn – this is gonna be good.