This Parenting Gig

We’ve hit a new stage around here recently.  My son is in the second grade.  Ever since we moved to this neighborhood two years ago, he has been running around with the boys in the neighborhood like one of the big kids.  But it is just recently that I feel like we’ve crossed into the next stage of parenting.  My son has gone from being a little boy to a big kid before my very eyes.

He’s always been easy.  I hate that term applied to children, but it’s just so applicable to him.

He was the nine month old who was content to sit on the rug and play with toys.  He didn’t walk until he was 18 months old because he couldn’t be bothered.  I didn’t even put child safety locks on my cabinets.  I told him “no-no” and that was that.  He never bothered them.

He was the kid who was sitting through “big church” when he was three years old, and not because we beat him into submission or anything.  We just gave him a baggie of goldfish crackers and told him to sit still and be quiet.  And he did.

He’s a compliant and affectionate child.  The Look is about all it takes to get his attention when he’s misbehaving, and he still gives me a hug when he gets off the schoolbus even though the bigger boys are around.  He’s not without his faults, of course, but all things considered, he’s our easy one.

But I’m learning that no matter how “easy” a child is, being Mom to a big kid is anything but easy.

It’s a balancing act.  I’m still his parent, but he needs more freedom than ever before.  He still needs boundaries and consequences when those boundaries are crossed.  And he still needs the affection he needed as a little guy.  But there are times when my affection is not what he needs or wants.  I am learning when not to cross that line.  I have to accept the fact that I can’t kiss away his pain anymore.

He is developing that fragile ego that afflicts all males.  I’m learning that I need to allow him to “save face” whenever possible.  A little bit of humor goes a long way.

I find him testing the waters.  Sometimes he talks to me with flippancy and disrespect, and I have to gently remind him that I am his mother, not his buddy next door.

I’m beginning to see him choose his friends’ approval over mine.  We have had some serious discussions recently about making wise choices and not going along with his friends when they are making the wrong choices.

This parenting gig.  It is HARD.

I’ve said it before, and I mean it more than ever now — I can’t believe you have to have a license in this country to own a gun, to drive a car, to fish in a lake, and to get married; but any idiot can take a child home from the hospital and raise it without even an instruction book.

Lately I feel like that idiot.

Of course there are instruction books out there.  When my children were babies, I read them all.  And when I got to each stage of parenting, I felt like I knew what to expect.

I knew what to do with my babies.  As long as I fed them and held them and changed their diapers a couple times a day, I had it made.  And best of all, they love you unconditionally.

I know what to do with my toddler.  Feed her, provide her with a few toys and safe boundaries, change her diaper when she tugs at it and says “pee-you!”, and make sure she gets enough sleep.  It’s all good.  And she still loves me unconditionally.

I know what to do with my preschooler.  Feed her, drop her off at school for a few hours so I don’t have to have messy art projects in my house, remind her to go to the potty every few hours, and hug her when the kid next door says she won’t be her friend anymore.

She is becoming more fickle in her expressions of love for me, but I know that at the end of the day she will crawl into my bed and press herself tight against my back and say sleepily, “I love you, Momma.”  And I can cuddle her for the rest of the night, knowing that she is safe and secure in my arms.

The best part about babies and toddlers and preschoolers is, whatever mistakes you made or are making will be long forgotten by the next day.  After all, a child can’t hold against you what he can’t remember.

But now there’s a “big kid” living in my house.  All of the sudden, the baby I nursed and rocked and sang to and potty trained thinks he knows more than his father and I do.  And he remembers everything.  If I mess this up, he could hold it against me forever.

I am no longer his whole world.  These days he often values a laugh out of his friend over an approving smile from me.  Sometimes he talks to me like I’m more of a peer than a parent.  One moment he is sweet and affectionate, and the next he is sullen and remote.

I still love him more than my own life.  I always have and I always will.  But he’s not totally mine anymore.  He’s becoming his own person.  I want so much for him to make the right choices and to own our values for himself.  We teach him what we believe, and we pray for him and with him, but ultimately he will make his own decisions.

I’m learning as I go, but I feel like I’m feeling my way along in the dark.  So about that instruction book.  I need a good one.  What do you have for me?  What do you recommend, oh wise Internets?

Those of you who have gone before me and have older children, what lessons have you learned that might help me and those in my shoes as we feel our way along this dark tunnel called parenthood?  We’re counting on you.  Give it your best shot.