Monday, February 11, 2013

The Love You Get Is Equal To The Love You Give

A lot of attention has been called to the way Michael and I parent our children lately. One in particular has questioned our parenting skills but merely for selfish reasons, and while it seems absurd to give the comments merit, it does have a tendency to cause much self reflection.

Michael and I were raised both very differently and very similarly. Both of our homes were 2 parent homes, both filled with opportunity, with encouragement and support. Both of our childhood homes were safe and comfortable, and we were both raised with the understanding that education was of the utmost importance.

I'm not going to discuss the ways in which our homes were different, as they are both important yet not so important to what I'm going to write about today. Today, I'm going to express a few things that have been on my mind lately.

When I was growing up, we were always expected to take care of our own basic needs. Yes, we were fed dinner, and we had a loving parent or two at all times at home. Yes we were supported and taken care of but for the most part, we were taught at a very early age to clean up after ourselves (although I didn't really do as much as my sister Eliza did. I'm a mess to the core, but that's also something I've learned over the years is extremely normal with my personality) to take care of the younger children when our parents were busy, to shower and bathe ourselves and to do basic chores around the house. I always enjoyed cooking, so it was my job very early on (at my own request) to make simple dishes. Spaghetti and the likes were simplest and I reveled in my duties as a family chef. I can recall once making a simple bundt cake pan full of raspberry jello, carefully measuring the hot water, adding the cold and stirring seemed so important. At dinner my dad took his first bite and closed his eyes and said something like "mmmmmm, oh Alli, this is the best!  You're such a good cook!" I can still picture where I sat at our little round table tucked into the breakfast nook in our kitchen. It meant so much to me to hear him compliment me on a skill that was so important to me.

As each of us grew, there were 4 of us, we naturally fell into our habits and hobbies and they did their best to offer us opportunities to better them. We took piano and violin, cello and dance. Sports and whatever else we asked for were offered and when we tired of them, they let us drop them for whatever we felt we wanted to try. Sure I had friends who started soccer at age 3 and kept playing until late into their adult lives, but we wanted to try many things, at least I did, and we were allowed to try them with the basic understanding that we had to at least give it a chance before we decided if we wanted to quit or not.

I dabbled in so many things. I loved writing (still do) and they purchased padded white embellished journals for me to write my stories in. (I still have the one I'm describing, and my kids still to this day laugh til they cry at my angsty 11 year old drama filled entries) When I took an interest in drama, I was allowed to participate at school, often getting parts in them or being offered positions in directing One Act Plays even up into high school. I give much credit to my parents for the fact that I'm one of those people who will see something I want to try, and without fear, I jump head first into it until I've either perfected it or gained enough knowledge out of it as to where I feel like it's a skill I can call my own.

Mike was raised the exact same way. He can tell you stories of playing the clarinet, of taking karate classes, running track and even playing football for years and years all the way through college. He took many classes in photography in college, studied art at an amazing liberal arts college, wrestled and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment one can gain from trying something, doing it and then calling it a part of who they are.

My children are no different. Each one is so unique. Even though all 7 of them look like they're cut from the same cloth (even the ones who don't share a biological father) they are all so absolutely and stunningly different.

When one expresses to us that he doesn't have the "urgency" or "desire" to continue with a certain sport, we ask them if they feel like they've really given it a chance, and if they can honestly say they have, we let them stop playing that sport. As nature directs, they smoothly transition into whatever else they want to try. This is how we were raised, to explore, to "try", to CHOOSE.

Giving your children a choice in their lives, in certain and most capacities, teaches them how to be good husbands, wives, people. You don't walk out of a home where your mother did everything for you and expect to get married and that the marriage will be successful. You walk into that marriage expecting that everything will be done for you, for your children. You walk into life blaming everyone else for the bad things in your life because you've never had to be accountable. You are an adult who criticizes everyone and everything in your life because of a sick sense of entitlement. This creates a dangerous dynamic.

Men and women who have not been taught to be responsible for themselves (and I don't mean paying your own bills, that's just common sense, people) seem to also be the people who are really good at getting people to love them, but not staying in love with them. They grow up thinking that they should be charming, to be the under dog, to be the one who needs support from lies they tell people around them. These people are the most dangerous type of people I have ever encountered. They hurt people and turn around and say "well you deserved it because you weren't doing this and this and this for me" or "you are wrong because, well, I'm always right. My mommy told me so because she never even allowed me to be woken up in the morning for school with an alarm clock".  This is sick and neglectful. This is disgusting to me.

Our children do not need to be coddled. The more they have people coddle them, the more dependent they become on others. Not that depending on your spouse is wrong, depending on someone because you've decided together that each will provide an equal part of a life you've created, this is the exception. Also, there is a difference between coddling and nurturing. Nurturing, this is imperative. Coddling, not so much. I think of it as a form of abuse, if I'm going to be honest here.

Children who are taught like ours are, to wake themselves for school, to do their own laundry (come on people, you're old enough to shoot nazi zombies on tv, you can surely put your whites in the washer, add a scoop of soap and push "start") and to pick up after themselves. I've been judged harshly because I don't do everything for my children. One of my older adult children was told that "It's your mom's job to make sure your house is spotless" and while I agree, it is my job to coordinate things in the home, because Michael and I have together decided on this, the kids are allowed to make that choice. If they don't do it, they get to live in a bedroom that has clothes and books on the floor and that weekend when they ask to go to the movies or to a friends house, I say no. Not because I'm mean, but because I am TEACHING THEM SOMETHING. You make a choice, you're responsible for that choice, you live with the consequence, whether it be good or bad.

My kids are smart people. Most kids are smart people. The most successful people I've known in my life are those people who worked hard on their own to become who they are. Likewise, the least successful people (not money, but in life) are the ones who were taught that everyone in the world is at their disposal. These people are the same ones who made commitments and then broke them. Who came home from missions. Who are divorced multiple times. Who can't seem to understand why people aren't just falling at their feet when push comes to shove.

I'm raising my people to be free with love, to give generously of their time to others. I don't look at the family room that hasn't been mopped in 3 days and think "oh I'd better get on that or I'm a bad mother!" I look at it and say "I asked so-and-so to do that 3 days ago. It's not done. Now that birthday party this weekend isn't going to be attended."

Judge us how you will. But before you do, I ask only one thing. Look at who we are. Look at who these kids are. Could they have become the well mannered, loving, kind and generous people they are without some guidance from loving parents?  If you can still say no, then I argue that you may not have it in your heart to accept anything that doesn't give you recognition in some form.

It isn't about you here, it's about the kids. It's about who has been there day in and day out, who teaches them to be incredible adults. When all of my kids have successful lives and marriages, we will give ourselves a pat on the back but only because we have guided them (not forced them) to become the good people that everyone is born with the capacity to be.

We will continue to teach them how to love. How to clean up after themselves. How to say they're sorry and love freely. We will continue to teach them how to be good people, how to pick up after themselves, how to do their own laundry, how to make themselves food because when they're all adults, they won't be the ones who have been divorced several times who still expect their mother to buy them cars. They'll be the ones taking us to lunch and bringing their kids over to see Grandma and Grandpa Easley because they'll know. They see it now. They'll see it then.  And I love that this is how the universe works. In the end, you get back the love that you give. And that's all that should really matter.

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