My blog this month, in honor of the month of April when my mother brought me into this world, is all about being a parent. For those of you reading this who are parents already, I hope you recognize in this something that you can empathize with, sympathize with, or maybe just commiserate with. For those of you who have not yet experienced the pleasures of parenthood but hope to someday, you'll most likely take away from this blog one of three things: 1) an appreciation of the joys of children that makes you long to be a parent, 2) a gritty determination to rise to the challenge of raising children someday, or 3) full-on anxiety and the urge to run screaming from the building in search of a lifetime supply of birth control. In any case, I hope it serves you well in your future endeavors.
So let me start with this: my husband and I have been richly blessed with three beautiful children. I cherish every day with them and consider them to be gifts from God. Some days they may or may not seem like gag gifts....but gifts nonetheless. And for those of you thinking that last statement was a little harsh...just wait. Children are for sure proof that God has a sense of humor.
So, when you're young and pregnant with your first child, you'll find that everyone you know, and a few you don't know, will line up to give you advice. You'll be taking things very seriously, this being your first child and all, so you'll try to absorb as much knowledge as you can. You figure if you can memorize all the nuggets of wisdom offered up by these seasoned veterans, surely it will make you the best parent of all time, right? Let me save you some anxiety here...for the most part, it won't matter even a little.
Of course, there's the basic safety advice like how to install your car seat properly, and when is the fever high enough to call the doctor--those things are always helpful to learn. And then there's the little tips and tricks of the trade like the first thing you need to add to your baby shower registry is a Diaper Genie, and do NOT, whatever you do, forget the Boudreaux's Butt Paste. Those are pearls of wisdom--go ahead and commit those to memory...you'll want to pass them down yourself one day. But all the other stuff, the sappy cliche's and emotional chow-chow about the best way to raise your child...yeah you're pretty much going to figure that out on your own, as you go, flying by the seat of your pants, Mach II with your hair on fire, just like the rest of us did.
The good news is: you will. You will figure it out. You'll be subjected to a nice variety of emotions at the end of each day that can range from feelings of accomplishment and pride, to gratitude that the day is over, and amazement that you managed to keep everyone alive. Exhaustion will be your constant companion and you'll learn firsthand that the phrase "catch up on your sleep" is nothing but a cruel joke. Feel free to refer back to that whole God having a sense of humor thing...
Nevertheless, as corny as it sounds, cherish the early years as much as you can. Because one day, before you know it, they're older. And while you may start getting more sleep, you'll find that you miss them coming to get into bed with you, or needing you to kiss the boo boo or check for monsters under the bed. And trust me, no matter how well-intentioned you are, the first time you lick your thumb to wipe something off a 15 year old's face, the reaction you get will NOT be appreciation.
In my experience, I've found that things really start to get....let's just call it interesting...around the age of 13. After all, they're beginning to push their boundaries a little and express their independence. Which is all just code for, they now know more than you do, and you can never understand anything. Ever. This is also the age where they begin to practice that lovely, time-honored maneuver--the eye roll. Get used to it, you'll see it frequently for the next few years.
If you're lucky enough to be dealing with two or more siblings who are just a couple of years apart in age--congratulations! Your degree of difficulty has been multiplied proportionately by the number of siblings there are. So, for the foreseeable future, every time one of them has a problem, it will kick off a strange trickle-down effect so that in a spectacularly short time, ALL of them have problems. Be aware, each problem is life or death, each problem is more critical than the others...and you cannot possibly understand, (refer back to my earlier statement) let alone help.
I'm told this phenomenon is somewhat different when all the siblings are boys--I can't comment on that. But trust me, if you have at least two girls close to the same age, you better get right with the Lord. Immediately. You're going to need His help for sure.
The good news is that it is survivable--I'm living proof of that. Somehow, my husband and I have managed to raise two daughters, both of whom are grown now, and a son who is now 16. I love them all more than life itself, but I also thank God every day that we had the good sense to stop at three. It's always a gamble--you never know which one will end up pushing you past your limit. My money was on number four for us so we decided not to risk it.
I get asked a lot--which was easier to raise, girls or boys? I always say that boys are easier...but remember, by beliefs have been skewed somewhat after being traumatized repeatedly by teenage sister drama, so my opinion probably isn't entirely objective. And while boys may be less drama than girls, they're also harder to keep alive. Somewhere around age 12, a switch flips in boys' brains and they become convinced that they're ten foot tall and bulletproof. Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of trying to convince them that whatever grand plan, or stunt, or adventure they've dreamed up is a bad idea. That's like catnip to them and will only ensure they'll be doing it for sure. Probably multiple times. Most likely until a bone breaks. It's a classic parent trap--don't fall for it.
Unfortunately I can't advise how long this phase will last--I'm still waiting for mine to grow out of it. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure my mother-in-law is still waiting for my husband to grow out of it too, so that doesn't really bode well for the teenagers. Or their parents.
About the only thing you can do is try not to show them how terrified you are for them, and carry good health insurance. Hopefully you won't have to use it...oh who am I kidding--you will. But heed my words--no matter how dirty his face is in the Emergency Room, don't be fooled into thinking it's okay to wipe it off. Insert eye roll here.
All in all, I'm actually pretty proud of the parenting job we've done. In just a couple more years we'll have successfully guided them all to adulthood. Honestly though, I feel like that's going to be a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes, they'll be independent, well-adjusted adults living their own lives. But...they'll be independent, well-adjusted adults living their own lives! I don't kid myself for a second that I won't miss being involved in their day to day activities. I've always heard that the hardest part of being a parent is letting them go when they're grown, and I have no doubt that's true.
Except for those teenage sister dramas--I'm not kidding, those will scar you for life!
So for all the parents out there--I raise my glass to you! It's definitely not for the feint-hearted, so if you've still got even a few of your marbles left, pat yourself on the back immediately! And for all the future parents--what can I say--GIRD YOUR LOINS! It will be the most terrifying, anxiety-ridden, wonderful, amazing experience of your life. Daunting? Yes. But totally doable.
The best advice I can give you is to think back on all those things your own parents told you when you were growing up--you know, those things you thought were so ridiculous because they couldn't possibly understand what you were going through. When you raise your own children, you'll find that not only are those things true, they're actually kind of genius. And your parents understood a lot more than you thought. And even if it means you have to hear an "I told you so", it's pretty much customary to admit that to them once you figure it out. Consider it a small payback for the Hell you put them through.
Well...that, and grandkids.