After being parents for 15 years now, one of the things that concerns Andrew and I the most is our stamina--can we make it through the whole process and still be sprinting as hard at the end as we are at the beginning?
When our oldest, Grace, was born we didn't know what we were doing but we were full of ideas and energy and determination. However, as the years pass I can see how my parenting style has changed and how the mom I've been to Grace is a different person than the mom I've been to Lillian.
While I think it's impossible to be completely static with your parenting throughout your entire career (and why would I want to stay exactly the same? I think I am generally a better parent now than I was at the beginning) Andrew and I have talked about how important it is to keep up the energy and be as good and as strong a parent for your youngest child as you are for your first.
For example, with our first child we were all about schedules. Bedtime, naps, all those things were commandments. Now having teenagers in the house has completely changed my efforts to get the youngest to bed on time. Stay up, go to bed--who cares? While I think that not being as rigid in this area is probably a good thing overall it has taught Lillian to be slightly less disciplined than her teenage sister was at the same age.
When Grace wanted her first bike we told her that she'd have to earn at least half of the money herself and she did. It was a wonderful thing for her to scrimp and save to find a way to make that $20 but when Lillian came along did she even need to earn money for a bike? Of course not, because she already had one. Two in fact. A hand-me-down that Grace had given her and a brand new one our neighbors offered her. Tough life huh?
With our oldest we were poor and struggling students but by the time our youngest came along we could afford to do so much more. Family vacations, going to the movies, fancy lessons were all things we could offer and what parent doesn't want to give their child things that make them happy?
The thing is, giving your child things isn't good parenting. Sure, it's important to make sure they're properly fed, clothed, doctored and educated but part of that education is teaching them to be independent which comes from providing for themselves--a much harder job with the youngest than the oldest because there are even more people in the house waiting to supply every need to that smallest child.
Here are a few suggestions gathered from our recent self-examination. Take them for what they're worth and maybe they'll help you too.
I gave you a sense of what I mean in this area already but unless your financial situation gets worse as you go along in life then you're probably able to give your youngest child a softer life than your oldest.
I mentioned how we taught Grace to earn the money for her first bike but then how we also realized Lillian was being given her bike without any effort on her part at all. So we took the very unpopular route by getting rid of the hand-me-down bike then telling Lillian that she could have the brand new bike our neighbors had given her when she earned it.
We set a fair price then made her work for it even though it was sitting in the back yard gathering dust while she weeded and raked her way along the path to financial freedom. It took her months but it felt much better to require the same work from her (or rather to teach her the same lesson) as we had with our other children.
This is probably the hardest area of all. Imagine the scenario: you have rules about what kinds of movies your oldest child can see. Let's say they can't see PG-13 movies until they're 12 or 13? It's easy enough to enforce this but as soon as the oldest child starts seeing PG-13 movies it's that much harder to keep your younger children from seeing them too. After all, you've got the DVD right there, the youngest child really wants to be included, you feel bad to put them to bed while the older kids see it so you let them stay. It's harder to get those youngest children to bed early anyway once you have preteens in the house (and you won't imagine how impossible it is once you have teens!)
My younger children have seen things I never would have let my older children see at the same age but we get tired and the slope keeps slipping along until pretty soon we've got the younger kids doing things that are really only suitable for pre-teens which pushes them into growing up much faster than our older children ever did. And not in a good way.
While this isn't entirely bad--I notice my youngest child has a wonderful sense of confidence--it tends to mean that we hold the older children to stricter standards than the younger ones. Not only is that unfair but it doesn't do the younger kids any favors by letting them get away with more.
For us this takes a concentrated effort to remember that "Grace wasn't able to do this when she was this age. It was a good standard then and it's still a good standard. Make Lillian wait." Which is rarely easy. It sometimes means getting a babysitter for only the youngest child while the rest of the family goes to a movie, it sometimes means simply telling the youngest child "no" and sticking to it no matter how they whine that the older kids get to do it but in the end I think it'll be a good thing.
There are eight years between Grace and Lillian. When Lillian was born I needed help with the new baby and my three-year old so I asked her to help quite a bit. I had her helping me with the baby, cleaning up and folding laundry, doing her chores and playing mom right along side of me.
However Lillian is now seven and it was very easy to continue to have Grace and Spencer doing most of the chores around here. First, because it was convenient, they were already trained. Second, because they were good at it. They do chores much better than an untrained seven year-old would so why would I want to turn the job over to someone who'd do an inferior job?
Well things changed. The first thing to go was Grace and Spencer. I didn't kick them out of the house but their chores got substantially reduced. I told Spencer that he'd been mowing the lawn for three years now and that he'd done a great job. He was free to get his own mowing jobs now for money and wouldn't have to worry about mowing our lawn any more. Then I took David under my wing and said, "Guess what? You've just inherited the mowing!"
Not only was this a good thing for Spencer (it knocked his responsibilities up a notch) it was great for David. He was thrilled to be able to try something reserved for men and his big brother and while he sometimes will complain about the chore it's been teaching him that same work ethic that's had Spencer doing handyman chores for cash around our neighborhood.
Same with Grace. I have her doing a couple specific smaller chores designed to help her homekeeping skills but basically gave the majority of work to David and Lillian. It sounds hard perhaps but it's not any more than I required from Grace at that age.
The other thing that has changed is that I've altered the way I think. When I need something done instead of automatically turning to the older kids who will do it the best I remind myself to turn to Lily and David and ask them to do it. If Andrew and I are heading out for the night and the kids need their mac and cheese made up (that's the standard meal here when Andrew and I go out, the kids get mac and cheese) instead of asking Grace or Spencer to boil the water and make it up I get Lillian or David to do it.
If Spencer is gone for the evening and can't finish his part of the dishes I don't automatically ask Grace to fill in I ask the younger kids. To sum it up: instead of passing things to the oldest child I've rearranged my thinking to automatically pass the chore to the youngest and it's been great.
Even in the past year I've been doing this I've seen great results. You see that picture at the top? David has a pet frog and Lillian decided that she too wanted to have a frog. She checked out books from the library to read up on their care then decided the best way to earn the money was to set up a cookie stand. There she is, on the street corner, selling her homemade cookies and making a killing. It only took her a month or so to save enough for the tank, frog and supplies--all without her coming to me and begging for a pet the way she would have before.
I figure if my oldest children deserve rules and discipline then the least I can do is give a bit to the youngest ones as well. After all, I love them too, right?
Congratulations to Becky of L'Anse, Michigan, Kelly and Sonya of Forest Park, Illinois for winning this weekend's prize packages from Pak Naks. Cute charms, aren't they?
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