Our three young adult offspring often banter about childhood memories — usually ones when they got in trouble for one action or another. They revel in who did what to whom — and who got nailed for it (usually by me).
They rarely bring up the great adventures we went on, the vacations, accomplishments or accolades — or the hugs and love we showered on them.
Listening to them, an observer might justifiably think these three college students had a truly traumatic childhood.
I asked my younger son why that’s all they talk about — why they don’t reminisce about the fun stuff.
“The other (bad) stuff makes better stories,” he said. “It’s like trading war stories with other kids. It helps us fit in.”
What? The best way to connect is to talk about how rough you had it? Was I that bad?
“NO!” son says. “You were the best mom ever. The other kids just don’t get that. We like to tell about how we got in trouble.”
OK, I guess. I firmly believe that being connected enough with your child to be able to stop him/her across a crowded room with one look is an essential parenting skill. They know the rules and can feel your presence — anywhere. This skill develops over time — starting in toddlerhood when those perfect little angels first encounter the word “No” as in “No you can’t do that.” They are NOT happy. Prior to age 2 or so, children generally don’t need to hear NO. Once their universe expands, safety and responsibility requires parents to set boundaries. It happens again and again as children grow. Tots (and teens) don’t like rules one bit. Hence the “terrible twos” and the “terrible teens.”
I have no degree in psychology or early childhood development. Like most parents I earned my stripes in the trenches. I read and sought “expert” advice, extrapolated what fit our family, and winged the rest.
My philosophy: Set reasonable rules, show respect and love and expect it in return. I firmly feel that parents earn their first stripes when learning to set those first boundaries — and not apologizing for it. Sure parents get bewildered that their “perfect” child is throwing tantrums — but we need to stay strong, because if we can’t control a toddler, how in heck will we ever control at teenager? They need rules to keep them safe. And to let them know we care enough to keep them safe.
War stories in our house involve some yelling (unfortunately), some serious time in bedroom solitary, a summer without video games, a teen being dumped at Target for Dad to pick up because Mom had HAD IT over something (none of us can totally remember why — it might have been the discovery of 14 missing Spanish homework assignments coupled with a supercilious attitude).
There was a point with our eldest son (around age 12-13) that I was amazed that there were any adult males alive in this world — that their mothers hadn’t strangled them (metaphorically of course!). We did make it through — partly because we went back to the hugs/love — and rules — basics.
Perhaps my three talk and laugh about the tough stuff because, really it wasn’t that tough. We know, and talk about, children and families who truly suffer — and not just in the abstract, serious issues face those in our circle of friends and family. Children in those situations rarely talk about the tough stuff — because it truly was horrible.
Still it would be nice, once in a while, to hear that our gang of three do really remember the good adventures too …