Like many of the people I work with, I find myself looking through a lens that tells me I am unique, and my situation is different from others; like I am the only one living this way or dealing with this situation or issue. However, the more I listen to others the more I become aware of our similarities. As I have written in previous blog articles, parenting is one of the most difficult and rewarding relationships. I’ve written about the insecurity and guilt we feel as parents (Parenting). I’ve written about how we as women struggle to do it all (Super-Woman ) and today I reflect on what it is like to raise children with significant age gaps. I am calling it multi-generational parenting and I may have just made that term up, but it makes sense to me when I look at my family’s dynamics.
I gave birth to my oldest son when I was only seventeen. A few years later I met my now husband who had a daughter that was the same age as my son and instantly I was mom to two toddlers with no clue what I was doing. It would be another seven years before my husband and I had a son together. We were done having children at that point, or so we thought. Nine years later we experienced a family emergency and agreed to become parents to our nephew whom we have had since birth. Once again, we get back into the groove of parenting and two years later we are pregnant again. At this point we have about an eighteen-year age difference between our oldest and our youngest. Having such a large gap between children can be like getting a second chance at parenting.
Having children in different developmental stages has been both challenging and rewarding. I’ve learned a few things along the way and I anticipate I will learn more. I want to talk about a few of the lessons I’ve learned.
Let them fail
Relationship is more important than punishment
A little humility goes a long way
We are all a hot mess and that’s ok
Let them fail
As a young mom I thought it was my job to protect my children from everything, even their own bad choices. Because I didn’t know how to deal with pain or disappointment in a healthy way, in my mind it made since to prevent my children from ever struggling. As they got older it became apparent I was doing it all wrong. I found myself fighting their battles for them rather then teaching them to solve their own problems. If they forgot to bring their lunch or homework to school I would rush back home and get it for them rather than let them deal with the consequences and thus learn to be better prepared. It took an older, more experienced mom telling me to let them go without lunch or answer to the teacher for not having their homework to teach them responsibility before it clicked. I still struggle with letting my kiddos struggle, but I do it and I believe they will be better because of it. Failure is a great teacher.
Relationship vs. Punishment
After surviving the teenage years with the first two I thought I had the whole parenting thing figured out. I raised the older two without much regard to the differences in their personalities. My parenting style didn’t change to fit their individual needs. I was more concerned with justice/fairness and making sure they were treated the same than I was with connecting with them individually. With them being the same age, it was easier to have rules that applied to both as well as punishment when breaking the rules. Correcting bad behavior became more important than relationship and connection. It wasn’t until they graduated high school, I realized how my need to control and prevent bad choices prevented genuine connection at a critical time in their development. When our middle child became a teenager, I thought okay we are going to do this different. I know what not to do, but I’m learning I still don’t have it all figured out. However, I am better prepared and more focused on connection than correcting bad behavior or preventing bad choices.
If I have learned nothing else, I’ve learned I’m not at cool as I think I am. My children are very good at keeping me humble. I’m not sure when I lost my coolness, but my children assure me I never really had it. Children can bring so much joy into your life if you learn to look past the things that don’t really matter and laugh with them. My husband and I have learned to laugh often both with them and at them. Because I lacked confidence as a young mom I would stress out about what others thought of me. Hence not letting my kiddos fail because I thought that would somehow be a reflection of me as a parent. As it turns out those other moms were not worried about me, they were doing their best to hold it together as well. Rather than pretending to know what I am doing, I now let my children teach me what they need. In addition, I am open to sharing my struggles with young moms to help them avoid the unnecessary pressure of perfection. For you young moms thinking us older moms are judging you when we see you out and about with your kiddos. Most of us aren’t. Yes, we are looking at you, but we aren't judging you. We are remembering when our babies were that young and how we wish would have done a few things differently. We may even offer you a smile or offer you some advice. It’s not because we think you suck at life, but we want you to know this time will pass by quickly. Don’t let the fear of what others are thinking prevent you from connecting with your kiddos while you make sure they behave perfectly in public.
We are all a mess
Another thing I have learned from being a multigenerational parent is we are all a hot mess and that is okay. It still amazes me that God ever trusted me with one kiddo much less five. Like seriously, what was He thinking. I’ve previously written about being a mess (I’m a mess) and how we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. This can be true when it comes to parenting. However, being a multi-generational parent has taught me to embrace my imperfections and encourage my kiddos to do the same. I can teach my kiddos to live in the moment and be okay with not being okay. I’ve learned to embrace the concept of leading by example. In application this may look like me admitting to my children when I am wrong. Or, sharing examples from my past where I messed up and how I was able to work through it, or not. It also means talking about feelings, hopes, dreams, prayers, expectations, disappointments, regrets, and forgiveness. I can teach my kiddos even though I am often a hot mess I am still capable of love and compassion. I can still be a good neighbor and help those in need. I can teach them that being successful doesn’t require perfection, but rather it requires connection with God and with others.
What’s the Take Away?
Being a parent is hard work, but it’s worth it. If we are willing, our kiddos can teach us so much about what it means to connect with them and the world around us. Even Jesus recognized the beauty of the innocence of a child, their wonder, and their value (Matthew 18:2-6) We are going to mess up and that’s okay. We aren’t perfect, and we can’t expect them to be perfect either. They will fail and that’s okay. Failure is a great teacher (it’s taught me so much). We give our kiddos a gift when we lead by example and teach them humility and compassion. Let your actions reflect those that you wish to see in your children. Finally, it’s okay to be a mess sometimes. Pretending like you have it all figured out is exhausting and it is a lie (Masks). Surround yourself with safe, solid people that will encourage you, pray for you, and be there when you need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen and be that for someone else.