I’m curious as to how many parents out there believe that they have “changed” or can “change” their child? I mean that they have actually altered the character or personality traits that their children possess.
This weekend we are embarking on a familial milestone. Son #2 will be turning 15. As a mother, this always bring nostalgia, emotion and memories. We recall the different stages in our children, remembering the good, occasionally the bad, and praying to forget the ugly. It has been a particularly trying time with Son #2. Not because he is a “bad” kid – but because he has always been his own person. My husband and I have spent 15 years parenting this child. He has taken us on a roller coaster ride for sure. Some people, like Son #2, LOVE roller coaster rides. The thrill and the rush of adrenaline are intoxicating for them. Some people, like me, detest them. They make me vomit.
A year ago I turned 40. I threw myself a party and invited individuals that I hadn’t seen in a long time but that had a profound impact on my life and that I missed their presence in my life. One of those people was my childhood best friend. We have known each other since we were 8 years old. The last time we saw each other was probably 15 years earlier after we had given birth to our first 2 babies. When she arrived, it was as if no time had passed at all. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen each other in so long or that we had not been in touch to swap daily stories. She sat beside me and we talked like we always had . During the conversation, she said something that I have thought about so many times since. She said, “People don’t change.” She said that referring to the long list of people who still lived where we grew up and where she still lived. I’ve recently wondered about that statement. “People don’t change.”
I think most people would like to believe that they have changed from an earlier period in their lives and that the change was definitely for the better. I’ve thought about myself. I sure feel like I have changed. But in reality- my situations may change, the people that I interact with may change, I may even be in a place that my reactions to something may change but the very heart of who I am and my motivations, my character, my personality – have they really changed?
Over the years of parenting, there is nothing that anyone could tell me about one of my children that I didn’t already know. I figured out their personality traits from the very early stages of life. Their very nature as babies, toddlers and preschoolers…it was evident to me early on who they were and were going to be. In the pursuit of parenting teens, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of “changing” our children. As if I was somehow going to magically have a control over them that they would fall in line to be the model teen: To achieve the greatest grades, display the most respectful behavior, be the most tenacious athlete on the field, the most chivalrous date for a young lady – like they were programmable to my commands.
Son #2 began walking and running when he was 8 months old. He was determined to do what he watched his older brother doing even when I was not able to hold a conversation with him to reasonably discuss the dangers of what he was doing. He walked around with enormous goose eggs on his head for months as he ran full speed in the house. His determination was unrelenting at 8 months old.
This same child has also been the epitome of stubborn. I recall when he was 18 months old his older brother was having a birthday party with pony rides in the backyard. We must have had over 30 people at the house. This child raged and threw a tantrum to top all tantrums when his turn was over. He did not want to get off of the horse. He did not want any other child to get on that horse. He did not care who was watching. He did not care that he was punished. There was nothing that was going to quiet this boy until he decided he was finished with the horse. I remember when they were packing up the party and putting that pony back in the trailer – as he screamed and cried at the back of the trailer not to take the horse away. It was a very stressful day. We still have the pictures of my husband trying to hold him with his arched back and reddened face completely refusing to comply.
This confidence is completely innate and nothing that has ever been taught. When he was about 2 1/2 years old, we were out teaching his older brother how to ride a two wheeler. We took the training wheels off and my husband worked with Son #1. He had a great deal of trepidation and was nervous – worried that his father would let go and he would not be able to keep the bike steady. But Son #2 at the ripe old age of 30 months was screaming from the driveway that he wanted his training wheels taken off. After what seemed like an eternity and after my oldest was finally making his way around the court on his own, my husband walked into the garage – took out that bicycle and took off his training wheels. I thought he was crazy. He said, “There is only one way for him to learn that he can’t do this.” My husband took that 2 ½ year old out to the court, put him on that bike without training wheels and started running behind him. He peddled with all of his might and my husband let go. But rather than crashing or falling off like we thought would happen – he peddled like a fiend and started lapping his older brother in circles around the court. It had never occurred to him that he wasn’t going to be able to do that. Even then he believed he could do whatever he wanted to. Because that confidence has been something that can sometimes dangerously border arrogance, it is something that we have also tried to break in him.
When he was 3 years old, he went to preschool. It was the same preschool that the oldest had gone to. He had the same teachers who had believed that his older brother was a dream. The same teachers that fawned over my oldest son and openly admitted favoritism would eventually call me to tell me that Son #2 was onry. Apparently, he refused to pick up toys that he didn’t play with. When asked repeatedly to help clean up the classroom – this son was not interested in being helpful. Time outs were not working. She wanted my help. I remember thinking, “Yeah right. Have you met my son?” But I also remember being worried that I had a big problem coming when he was older. I had parented both of my children identically, yet they were polar opposites in personality. The oldest would do anything an adult asked him without question. But Son #2 – only if he felt it was “fair.”
Through the years, Son #2 has continued to be one of the most determined, stubborn and confident individuals I’ve ever encountered. It has made parenting very challenging. It has made parenting extremely rewarding. Those things that drive me crazy have the ability to drive him to excellence. But they also have the ability to impact his life negatively – which further drives me crazy.
He has been a coach’s dream. He plays everything with all of his might – all of his heart – driven to succeed – driven to win. Determined to be the best he can be and confidence to believe he can be the best. Through the years, we have had discussions with his coaches. They talk about his “heart.” He’ll give you everything he’s got – every time. But I remember a particular conversation with his junior league wrestling coach. My husband and I felt that his confidence was beginning to get in the way of his being a “coachable” athlete. We were concerned that his belief that he believed he knew better than the coach. After speaking with our son, we realized it was falling on deaf ears. But I will never forget the coach’s words to us. “Don’t do anything to change him. That confidence is what makes him the athlete he is. Leave it alone. It is working for him.” I recall the thought, “Change him? I couldn’t change him if I wanted to.”
Nothing really rattles this child’s cage. He is very even keeled. That confidence has allowed him to coast through life with a lack of worry. He just lives in a state that everything will turn out okay no matter what. The confidence has allowed him to be lulled in to a false sense of security at times; always believing that he will land on his feet. This has become a problem especially when it comes to academics. Procrastinating. Last minute efforts. Lack of intense study. All of those things have contributed to a decline in his grades. Yet – it has never worried him or changed his belief that it was all going to work out okay.
After Son #2 had completed 8th grade, we received a call from his English teacher. Now let me clarify – it was the first day of summer vacation. He was finished with middle school – forever. She called to discuss a paper that he had written but then she wanted to pass along her assessment of my son. She wanted to tell me that she felt Son #2 did not take life very seriously. She wanted to tell me how bright she believed he was but didn’t try very hard. It concerned her greatly that he didn’t seem to take life too seriously. That conversation still echoes in my mind. Did she think that I really didn’t know this about my son? Of course I knew this. What exactly did she want me to do about it? Yes, he doesn’t take life seriously – but that doesn’t always have to be a negative. After spending 14 years with my son, I’ve seen the positive that this trait holds. (Especially, knowing the worrier that I have been and the energy that I have wasted in my life being that way.) There are pros and cons to everything, I suppose. But there was one thing I was certain about – I wasn’t going to change that about him. It wasn’t in my power.
Last week, my husband and I were out of town with my daughter. I called to ask my parents to help out with the older kids that day. Son #2 would be wrestling the day we were gone. I said to my father, “I am calling to ask you to be in charge of Son #2 while we are gone.” He replied, “Nobody is in charge of Son #2.” We laughed. Because there was never a more truthful statement made.
Yesterday, I received an email from one of Son #2’s teachers. He wanted me to know that he believed my son was not applying himself to his best ability - that he was capable of much more than he was doing. Then he asked if I could please find a way to exert some pressure on him. I started to laugh. Here we are again. This is who this boy has been his entire life. This was the 8 month old that was going to run around my house knocking into every corner of every piece of wooden furniture that we owned. Yet he was unstoppable.
Do not misunderstand me – I have lectured. I have attempted to point him down the correct path imparting every bit of parental wisdom that I possibly can for the past 15 years. But what I know is – I do not have the power to change him. His stubbornness, determination and confidence have had both negative and positive impacts on his life. Those traits can work to his advantage – they can be the catalyst of disaster for him. But it is not in my power to change that. Does he frustrate me? No question. Does he make me proud? No question. But he is who he is. Until he decides he wants to be something else.
This is all I know – he can make me crazy, he makes me laugh, he infuriates me, he makes me swell with pride, and he takes every bit of patience I have. But he is my son. The same son he has always been. I’ve never changed him. I never will. I am learning to accept him for who he is. I am learning that he has to live with the consequences of his choices and his actions no matter how it turns out
Last night he was not studying for his midterms. I suggested it many times. I made every effort to make our home conducive to that situation. He assured me he was ready and everything would be fine with the same confidence that he always does. Did I believe he was ready for his exams? Absolutely not. Did I feel frustrated and angry with him? Mhmm.
…But then for a very brief moment, a favorite song came on and he danced with me. It was just moments. But it was everything.
Happy 15th Birthday Son #2. I love you…just the way you are.