When I was a kid I always felt guilty. I felt like a lot of things were my fault. I wasn’t allowed to watch television on Saturday morning because there was work to be done. Or even if there wasn’t work to be done, my grandma was always working, and since that was true, no TV for me on Saturday morning. My grandfather was equally hardened when it came to a work ethic. Fun in our house was secondary to work expectations. Fun rarely happened in the same context that it does now in my marriage and with our kids. We didn’t have family nights or family vacations or engaging family conversations around the dinner table. We did have meaningful conversations, but they were often forced, not easy and open, and not often positive. I was raised by my grandparents in the 70’s and early 80’s. I graduated from high school in 1983. Do the math. These are grandparents who survived world wars, the Great Depression, turbulent times, tragic deaths, loss of children…you name it. If there was devastation to be found, it could be traced event after event, through the past threads of their lives, individual and together. So needless to say, there was not a lot of empathy in our household. You really did kind of “pull yourself up by your own boot straps,” and move forward. No one was going to be there to do it for you. After all, no one did it for them! No one was hanging your pictures on the refrigerator, reading you a book at bed time, nursing you through a cold, or giving you any facts about the “facts of life.” My parents died young, and my middle sister and I were separated from my oldest sister 4 years later. So it probably doesn’t surprise you that I am hard on my kids. I try to separate my past from my present when I see that their grades falling; or when I feel like my husband and I do most of the labor around the house. I try to separate my past from my present when they insist on a $400 dress for homecoming; (No, that one didn’t happen), when they spend too much time on social networking; (We had three channels on a black and white television, a rotary telephone with a party line, and no VHS!), when they complain about hand washing dinner dishes; or when they get frustrated with us for telling them, We are not their personal ATM. When I was in Girl Scouts, (one of the very few extra curricular activities which garnered my grandma’s approval), my grandmother did the unthinkable. She actually sewed my hard-earned patches directly on the dress rather than purchase the sash and then sew them onto the sash. The sash, in turn, was meant to be worn over your head and allowed to rest smartly across the breast of the uniform. But I was sashLESS! The uniform itself was a Good Will purchase. I also wore tube socks in some awful light blue color with my green uniform, rather than the sharp, regulation green knee socks that were part of the uniform. (Yes, I have the picture to prove this unsightly site) So when my girls are asking to shop for a homecoming dress and heaven forbid a mum (what in the heck is a mum?), I reminisce about my girl scout uniform disaster, and think to myself, how ungrateful of you to expect a brand new homecoming dress (every year) and since we live in Texas, a mum! Okay, confession: I hate mums. It’s a Texas thing. I am not a Texas girl. If it were up to me, I would use mums for target practice. But I have two girls who want to go to homecoming and if I stick to my past on this, they would be the ONLY two girls present at their homecoming in the best dress Good Will had to offer. In the end, I put a spending limit on the dresses, and did my best to figure out the mum thing without making my daughters feel like a burden. Therein lies the crux of this. I grew up in a tough place. Sometimes I felt like a burden. And some days, I do the same thing to my girls. Sometimes it’s inescapable. Oh, I shoot for the stars. “I’ll balance discipline with love and grace. I’ll set boundaries, but provide incentives. I’ll never be resentful about my schedule or tasks or make them feel guilty about spending money on them.” But often, as I am doling out the discipline, the resentment creeps in. I am my grandmother’s child. I am holding them responsible for a good bit of my life over which they have zero control or influence. My grandparents did the best they could with the resources that were available to them, both monetarily and personally. And I cried like a baby when they died. I would never wish to dishonor them. They were incredibly resilient, hard-working Americans who helped build this country with their own blood, sweat and tears. Because of my grandma, I am a good communicator with family and friends, a good writer, and I am fearless when it comes to confrontation. She also instilled in me a deep love for scripture. But still, when I left, I took the good, the bad, and the ugly. And with that, I have a choice: Shaping the person I am into a mother that takes the good, the bad, and the ugly, and uses it constructively for the good of her kids-or not. I fail. A lot. Many days, I utterly and totally fail. I wish I could tell you that in spite of my past, I am truly “mother of the year.” But I am not. When dealing with teenagers, I often don’t know when to advance and when to retreat. My usual method is advance and conquer. Defeat results from advancing when I should have retreated. But I will tell you this, Jesus and me we got a good thing going. He stands in that gap for me. You know the one? That gap, that for me is a bottomless black pit, me on one side, and my baby girl on the other. But for Him-He is the bridge in that gap. He bridges that space between my daughter and I. So when I do rely on my past to inform my decisions, and power forward with that lone voice in my ear, screaming “Charge!” and I mess things up, He gets in that gap, and He fills in the space where otherwise, resentment on both sides would fester and grow and become an impassable chasm. That’s Jesus in my darkest hour, making me the loving, joyful, compassionate, and responsible parent that He wants me to be.
When is the last time you had a conversation with your son or daughter? A real one. Not a superficial conversation about after school pick-up or football practice times, or “I’ll be running late so start dinner without me,” or anything to do with the logistics of running a household-but a real conversation. What happened in your day? What could you have done differently or what went well? What’s the importance of treating others with respect? Summer vacation is soon here; how do you plan to balance leisure activity with serving in your community? Conversations regarding the implications of those who choose to be sexually active early. Planning to be financially responsible and avoiding debt! These are a just a few “life saving” conversations. Obviously, not all of our hours can be devoted solely to these discussions. We are all busy. But you better believe that not allotting time in your busy schedules for these dialogues could be a powerful measuring stick for their future success and even their safety…….
To read this post and learn more about starting life saving conversations with your kids, go to http://www.crayonmarksandtigerstripes.com/guest-post-conversations-kids/
I am guest posting there today for my friend Stephanie.