Friday, February 9, 2007

AAAHHHHH!!!! That FEELS good!

You know, I get asked all the time what it is like parenting older kids, even adults, vs. younger kids. The Khan and the Senator being four and nine with numbers 1 through 4 being 22, 19, 19 and 17 respectively. I have to say, first off, that all kids are different regardless of age and you must parent them all differently. #1, for example, is very high-strung and sensitive. Back in the day, you only had to look like she was in trouble and she'd cry. For #2, nothing was "fair". He pushed the limits more and got in more trouble - having come into my world late in the game compared to #3 and #4 - than the others did. Finally, however, he came around to my system and is now doing well. #3 and #4 are too much like me. The good part, is you can reason with them most of the time. The bad part is that they can be a real pain in the ass.

What is "my system" you ask? It's pretty simple really. My mother told me once that she figured her job as a parent was to work herself out of a job. It made sense to me so I tried to do things the same way. From the outset, #3 and #4 knew that their top priority was to go to school and work hard at it. Well, for #3 work hard might be relative but I digress. They knew that homework had to be done and grades needed to be at or above a certain level or it wouldn't go well with them. I don't mean demanding A's, by the way (although we have friends who think that we do). I mean that they had to work hard and do their best. If they worked hard and did their best and earned a "C" that would be okay. Not working hard and earning a "B" would not be okay. Does it make sense? This philosophy evolves through getting to know your kids. For example, by the time #3 was in sixth or seventh grade, I knew that if he had anything lower than a straight "B" the odds were that he hadn't turned in all his assignments for the class. On several occasions, this meant he'd get grounded for C's on his report card. The first time this happened, I was persona non grata for the duration, but he came to understand that I wasn't kidding. By high school, this was no longer an issue. I think he's better for it even if his statistics professor this semester wouldn't recognize him.

#4, conversely, either learned from her brother's trials or just was born with a work gene that came out of nowhere. Her dad is a huge slacker and I, like #3, believe that a B will do if it is easier than earning an A (well, I did in high school but by the end of my Bachelor's I'd gotten over it). She pushes herself almost too hard. She's goal-oriented and very focused on the outcome she expects. Sometimes I am in awe of her drive and her vision. All four are smart, two of them have always believed it, one is learning and the other is finally starting to believe. The Navy has been good for #2 because it is showing him what he's capable of and allowing him to show what he knows. #1 is looking beyond her current position at the store that gives me a headache and wondering what else there is. I do think she's figuring it out.

The rest of my "system" basically is giving them responsibility as they are able to handle it and using the old standard cause and effect approach. If "A" then "B" or if Not "C" then Not "D". For example, if you do not clean your room, you cannot play video games. If you do the dishes, you can use the car. Simple really. The most important thing is to help them develop judgement and critical thinking skills and to use them. The greatest gift you can give your kids is common sense. Take my word for it. And let them be themselves. Don't make them what you want them to be, rather let them become who they will. Hopefully, your careful guidance will point them along a path you can be proud of.

The Senator and the Khan have been such a welcome addition to this family. I won't say, however, that it has been a breeze. It is very different to parent a 13 year old vs. a 5 year old vs. an infant and #4 was 13 when the boys came home with us. You have to parent those ages differently and, yes, you get out of practice. Parenting an infant is very easy. Their needs are simple and, despite what other parenting bloggers would have you believe, parenting them is uncomplicated. Common sense, for us at least, does the trick. Change them when they're wet, feed them when they're hungry and love them all the time. They, by virtue of their own cuteness, get all the attention they need in a reasonably functional household. Especially in ours with five adoring older siblings along with their parents.

A five year old is a different story. The Senator is bright, funny and compassionate but he had never had parents before he had us. Having parents, believe it or not, takes some getting used to. The older siblings and little brother were no big deal for him. In his mind he had a family of 12 siblings in his orphanage group. The challenge was being loving and firm and finding the right balance between wanting to give him everything he'd missed in the last five years and not overwhelming him with the possiblities. I think, for the most part, we did okay with that. He's a video game junkie but no more so than other kids his age now. The hard part is when he gets in more trouble than normal and he still - after all these years - thinks we'll send him back. Can you imagine? I would not want to imagine life without the Senator in it.

The good and bad part of bringing older and younger kids together is the closeness that results. The older kids unanimously adore their little brothers. In fact, I think that they all get along better because of the younger two. The four of them are baptismal sponsors to the younger two and they all feel a sense of responsibility for them. Sometimes, it almost seems like the little boys have four extra parents. But the extra parents are the "cool" parents that give them brownies for breakfast (well, #1 and #3 anyway, #2 and #4 would never - they're almost as mean as the Sarge and I) and let them play Nintendo all day.

The bonds between them are so cool. #4 and the Senator get along very well. She is a bossy older sister, but that's okay with the Senator because she usually says "Yes" to Nintendo. #3 and The Khan have an idol worship type of thing happening. Because of #3's sheer size - especially compared to the Khan's - the Khan thinks his "Big Buddy" can do anything. When the Senator had a problem on the bus about a month and a half ago, the Khan thought the solution was "My Big Buddy ride you bus!" Not to worry, I don't condone physical violence of that nature. I taught the Senator some joint locks, control holds and maybe just wee bit of self defense ("let them hit first and then do this" - that's how I roll). The Senator, being mostly a pacifist, thought I was nuts. And conversely, when it comes to the Khan, #3 says that "On a cuteness scale from 1 to 1000, that kid is about ten million!"

I am really blessed to know all six of these people and have a chance to watch them grow and become really great adults. The playdough philosophy still stands, but I think it worked so far. I haven't had to squish any of the older ones and start over in quite awhile. It must mean we shaped them pretty well after their last squishing.

I do have one bit of advice for you though. When children are closer together - like the Senator and the Khan, it is better to hold one out of school until they are both ready to start. It is okay to start a 10 and a five year old together. Doing so will avoid exposing your toddler to the things that happen in the typical elementary school. Trust me. When my four year old passes gas, rather than the "Excuse Me" that we taught him at home (or blaming his brother, mother, father or the nearest pet for it - like #3 taught him) he smiles broadly and exclaims "AAAAHHH! That FEELS good!


Anonymous said...

Good post :)
-Ian (DSG)

Tal said...

Great post! I really love hearing about the parenting stuff, plus it's so rare that you talk about the older kids. I'm loving the new blogging!