Lately I find myself noticing all the ways I'm ill-prepared for the next several years. I thought that the sleep-deprived years with irrational toddlers would be the worst for me, but I can see that older children are going to challenge me in ways for which I am wired for failure.
My eldest hit double digits last week. In most ways, he's still very much a little kid, but I can see the imminent future. I always knew that my children would grow up and grow away from me, but I only recently have begun to experience how hard that will be for me. I want independent children, but I'm used to controlling nearly every aspect of their lives.
I do not want to be an overbearing parent. I want my children to be independent and learn from their mistakes. But I'm a control freak, and losing control will be challenging for me.
I wasn't thrilled about sending my child to his first sleepover party, and I knew the problem was me. I didn't know the parents well, and what I did know suggested a very different parenting style than mine. I knew he'd be safe and cared for, but I also guessed he'd have a lot more leeway (and fun) than I would permit. My rational self told the crazy self to get over it. He'd be fine. And he was.
I bumped into the host on Monday and learned that my son had been one of the lucky ones in the "quiet room" that went to sleep before the wee hours of the morning. One guest brought an iPad, and the boys in the not-so-quiet room stayed up late watching stuff.
Even assuming what they watched was benign, I was still indignant about it. In my world view, no nine- or ten-year-old should have his own iPad. At a minimum, he should not have such free reign with that device that he can pack it for sleepovers.
I was working up a pretty good rant about it in my head when a Facebook conversation forced some perspective on me.
My parents were not like me. They did not have this urge to control.
They gave up trying to get me to bed at a reasonable hour when I was ten because (I gather) it was no longer worth the hassle. They frequently left me in the care of my aunts and uncles, who were young and fun and took me to every bar in town by the time I was five. When I was fifteen, my parents let me ride to school (and arrive tardy) each morning with a senior boy of questionable responsibility who drove a car that reeked of beer.
Yesterday, as I mentally ranted about ten-year-olds and their electronic devices, I reminisced online with that boy about those morning car rides. He is now a father of three daughters, and I asked if he would let his daughters ride with his teenage self. He said he wouldn't let them in the dilapidated car no matter who was driving.
I spent much of the afternoon thinking about what that car and driver must have looked like to my parents (they looked very cool to fifteen-year-old me). I wondered if my parents worried about my getting to school. I was amazed they didn't care that I was late every day. I couldn't believe they ceded such control to a teenager.
That's when I noticed the difference between my parents and me. I want to control everything my kids do--when they sleep, what they eat, how they spend their free time--and my parents, within obvious limits, trusted that everything would be fine.
Didn't my parents care about my well-being? Of course they did. Is the difference generational or an individual personality trait? Probably some combination of both. Can I learn something from the way they did things? Absolutely.
It's not going to be easy for me, but I am going to have to trust my children to make some bad decisions and still turn out ok. If I don't want them living in my basement in twenty years, I need to start trusting them now to make their own judgments and learn to live with the results.
I need to cede small bits of control while the stakes are low before it is wrested from my grasp entirely. That's a lot for a control freak to handle, but I'm going to do my best. The intended results--responsible, independent children--will be worth the angst.