Not long ago I was woken up in the middle of the night by a different cause than my usual middle-age issues. LOL. One of the younger kids, who was never characterized by this before and is too old for one to suspect it would happen now, came to see me due to having had a nightmare. The very realistic dream — so gripping that upon waking, the poor kid could not immediately tell it wasn't really happening — was caused by a movie that had been watched the previous week. The movie had the letter Z as a complete word in the title (which we all know stands for “zombie”), and I had made a parenting decision to allow the child to watch it.
Yes, it's true: I let my kid watch a zombie movie. But before you scream and moan about my poor parenting, please be aware that I never would have let my older children watch that movie at the same age as I let the younger one. Probably not at all, actually. Like, EVER.
Guess what? There are differences in how you parent your first kids and how you parent your last kids. With all of the best intentions to be impartial and consistent, parenting changes as the family grows. It just does, y'all.
I can still remember when the oldest was about three or four and watching Snow White – the original Disney animated one that was made about a billion years ago. And Snow White ate the apple and passed out; and as I sat having coffee in the other room with a friend, I heard my daughter anxiously discussing with my friend's kid about whether or not Snow White was really dead. And I was horrified that I had allowed my daughter to be scarred in such a way — and we got rid of the movie. (Don't laugh at me, y'all!)
With my youngest, Snow White wouldn't have made her bat an eyelash. Her older siblings were raised on Veggie Tales and Winnie the Pooh — but she doesn't even remember those. As they grew older, she was for the most part allowed to watch what they watched. Which means that now at twelve years of age, she watches high-speed chases, heists, fights, gunshots, Orcs, and their ilk with aplomb.
(Those of you with only one or two small children are probably horrified by now. Um, wait until you have teens and young children in the same house, and see how you handle it. Just sayin'. :-) And for the record, I draw the line at “scenes” – the kind between consenting adults, if you know what I mean… But our movie choices are a discussion for another day. :-) )
So many other things changed in our parenting as we went down the birth order. Some of it was good, like when you realize that what you disciplined for very strictly in the first child is really actually a fairly normal phase, and so with the later siblings you just address it with laughter and hugs and maybe a missed treat or mild rebuke.
I tell my oldest that she is my “learning curve child” – and it's still true as she becomes an adult, and I have to learn how to NOT parent one of those. LOL. The poor thing; I feel bad for her, I really do — but I don't know how else to do this parenting thing than to try, and sometimes stumble, fall, and get back up again…
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Some of the changes in parenting over the years are not as good. We've become lax in some areas. We're older and tired-er, so we're not as on-the-ball about some things. A few of the behaviors we drilled into the kids in the early years we haven't worked on as consistently with the later children — and we should have. Things like first-time obedience, obeying happily and promptly — we let requiring those slide a bit over the years and are now paying the price with teenagers who are less than responsive sometimes. Just being real, y'all. :-)
The truth is that parenting is definitely a long-haul venture. Once you've had a child you can never go back. So you'd better be ready to keep pressing on even when old and tired. Because the night my teen woke me up after a nightmare showed me that they will still need us. They will still come back to the security of Mom and Dad — if they know we are a safe place to be.
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And here's where we get to the nitty gritty. Regardless of how many children we have or how old they are – and how tired we think WE are, lol — I believe there are two things we must give ALL of our children, so that they KNOW that we are their safe place. These two things cannot change over the years. They must be part of the fabric of our parenting from the beginning and over the long haul.
I'm talking about unconditional love and transparency.
Above all, our kids need to know we love them. They need to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. This means lots of hugs (at least I'm good at that). :-) Lots of positive words. Lots of smiles in their direction.
And even plenty of discipline and boundaries — it's the parents who actually don't care who won't protect their kids with rules, nor discipline them when those rules are broken. If we love our children, then we want to help them overcome their faults, not leave them to struggle with their negative traits for the rest of their lives.
Real parents don't give up and can't be turned away by anything their child does. And it's our job to make sure they understand how unconditional our love for them is.
Our kids also need to know that WE know we are fallible. That's the transparency part. They need to hear us apologize regularly when we mess up. We need to be willing to admit our failures and our sin and our stupidity.
Our kids know very well that they need us; they also need to know that WE NEED THEM. Being transparent with them about our fears and failures (in an age-appropriate way, of course) forges bonds of forgiveness and trust that foster that safe-place mentality.
If we cultivate unconditional love and transparency in our homes, then I believe our children will always feel secure. Regardless of where they are in the birth order, what we’ve allowed or not allowed, disciplined for or let slide, showing unconditional love and being transparent are two parenting must-haves that should NEVER change as the family grows.
You know what? Even as I grasped my coffee cup for dear life the next morning, I did not mind the lost sleep that night. Hearing my child's voice at the door at three in the morning was for me a validation. My beloved lamb, at an age where seeking Mommy out in the middle of the night is no longer cool, came to me for help and security. I may mess up in my parenting A LOT, but there must be something I am doing right. And so I press on, because the long haul is EXACTLY where I want to be.
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