The thing about kids growing up is that they get to be a lot less difficult to have around. And when it gets easier, I think they may be paying more attention to us than ever before. And it scares me.
I have always loved having my kids around but, you know, when they are 3 and tantruming up a tornado of crazy, they might just be a bit more “work” than they are at 10. When they are 3, you are on duty and always watching with your guard up and, when you put them to bed at night, you admit so much relief because you have a few hours to be you and not some hard-core routine enforcer.
At 10 (and even 7), it’s different. You can relax some. Suddenly you can sleep in, and your kids can get what they need out of the frig. The tantrums come less often and conversations become more two-sided. In fact, your kids aren’t as much work as they were before and you can kind of “do you” while they hang out do their thing.
You let your guard down some. You don’t feel so “parent-ish” ALL the time. When the kids are quiet and cool, it feels OK to be more true to who you are and what you do. And suddenly, in that moment when you are most relaxed and laughing and talking to the people around you, you look over and realize that they are watching and listening to you more than they ever have before.
We recently went to the beach with a group of friends for an over-night. We had a great time and the kids tagged right along. I was saying to my husband later that it didn’t even feel like we had “kids” there because it just wasn’t hard work. They never complained, they laughed along with us, they enjoyed the beach, the hung out with our circle of friends in the water, they watched TV when we did, they came along to dinner and sat patiently (ish) when dinner was late, and they went to bed quietly, probably listening to all the grown-up talk outside the window just like I did when I was a kid.
But here’s the thing. We all sweared. And enjoyed a few “adult beverages” around them. We said what we said and I am not sure we censored ourselves drastically. I don’t think we talked about too much that was very inappropriate but what if I said something off-handed about a person’s really bad tattoo as they were walking by. (I’m not sure that I did but I know I have, the beach has some bad tat art, it’s always something to behold.) What if I was a little bit mean? My kids were there, saying very little, careful to be considered part of the group, and they were eves-dropping the entire time.
I think now is a time when we need to be very, VERY careful.
If I think that I am my most influential as a parent when I am lecturing them about the ideals of right and wrong in the car while we go to the grocery store… I AM WRONG. That’s the stuff that they tune it out.
My kids are watching how I treat people when they serve us dinner in a restaurant. Or when I lose my temper over a broken grocery bag and swear. Or when I talk on the phone about another person on the porch and they are beside me reading a book. They are watching every move, drawing so much less attention to themselves now and getting closer to the person I REALLY am. And they are archiving it all away as an example of how to be.
People, when your kids get older, they see you for who you are, to the core. You won’t be able to bullshit them. Don’t think that you can. Don’t think you can tell them some tale of how kids should be and adults should be and try to convince them that you don’t swear or make fun of people’s bad tattoos WHEN YOU DO.
I love that my kids are more grown up. I love getting to know them as older people who suddenly have opinions and reasonable suggestions and remind me about appointment dates and know directions to places. That’s cool! They are so much less work and so much more fun.
But I can’t let the fun fool me. And I had BETTER not let my guard down and try to play the “my kids are my best friends” routine. It’s easy to do, they want you to be their friends. And you kind of can be. But, ultimately, you are their example and their compass for right and wrong. As they grow, I can NOT take this for granted or forget that when they are good, and sitting nicely… they are listening to and watching everything. EVERYTHING. So I had better make it count. And be the person I want them to be. I can’t tell them how to be good human. I can only show them how to do it. And showing someone how to be GOOD, when parents are so damn fallible in every way, is a very scary reality to face.
So, maybe it isn’t easier. This is a stage of parenting that challenges the person I have decided to be. And I think that’s how it always will be, even when they are adults.
*Checking moral center and game face in the mirror.*
This whole parenting thing just got real.