Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Risk My Husband (and I) Are Willing to Take

Last year, my husband said something in a (rare) lecture to our older son who'd just turned 13.

For background I'll share this was about discussing the hard work it takes to do well at learning academics. My son was adamant about wanting to be an engineer and the college prep for that path starts in 8th grade. My son was giving me flack about doing the school work. In my opinion was being lazy about stepping up to the plate to do high school level work. He was being disrespectful of me in his noncompliance and in his complaining or back-talking. I'd had enough and phoned my husband at work to let him know that when he got home I'd like him to handle the situation.

(I have seen that in the preteen years my sons have started moving away from me a bit and seeming to take my husband more seriously than they do me sometimes. I am certain this is a normal developmental stage for boys to go through, at least people say it is. Perhaps they fully know my limits and now they are putting him to the test, who knows? I'm not over-analyzing it, what's the point? Where my kids used to seem to listen to me more than they did their father if what they need now is to have my husband step up as the more hard line authority figure I am happy to let my husband handle it. If he chooses to do 3-4 serious lectures a year I'll not protest. To be honest, I'm more of a discussion and concensus person, but with these teen hormones raging sometimes soft talk and touchy feely discussions get nowhere.)

My husband said,

"I need to do what I feel is right and what is my duty as a father. When you are a young man in your 20s if you hate me for what I have done in trying to raise you well that is okay with me. In my heart I would know that I did what was right.

I don't decide what to do based on what I think you will like in the moment. I don't let you get by with doing less because it makes you happy. Learning can be hard. Doing all this academic work can be less fun thatn doing other things like sitting and watching TV and playing video games all day.

I have to live the rest of my life with the ramifications of my decisions and that includes decisions about raising my children. I could not live with myself if I did the wrong thing in the hope that it would make you like me more in that moment. I choose to do what is right based on whether it is right or not, not based on what makes you happy right now."
At first I was taken aback that my husband would ever accept that our kids could hate us for doing anything related to what we think is good parenting. My first thought was I wanted love from my kids including in their adult years and that I should now, do what would make them love me now which I thought would instantly translate into lots of love in the future.

For a moment I questioned myself and wondered if I should relax back on our homeschool academics in order to keep my sons happy with me. Didn't I want them to think their homeschool years were joy-filled?

Back at that time I was also considering sending that son to private high school instead of continuing homeschooling. With all the hard work that homeschooling my kids has been, the last thing I wanted was for either of them to look back on it with any kind of negativity let alone to think it was all a mistake. I wanted my kids to have great memories and to feel happy they'd had the option of homeschooling.

My frame of mind at that time was I was feeling burned out with homeschooling but I didn't recognize it in myself. Several people who know me said I was burned out and I was shocked to hear it. I think I had been thinking that burnout felt like boredom. I was feeling at my wit's end and worried and inadequate and incapable of continuing. I had my kid's best interests in mind and thought maybe it was time to start using school instead.

I thought maybe I wasn't up to the challenge of homeschooling any more, and that maybe I should just concentrate on being a good mother to a schooled child. If some of the responsibility was removed from me (their education) maybe I'd be liked more and it would just be easier for me to be a supportive parent of a schooled kid. Heck, I could even go back to work and make more money! I could do things just for my own self and have more time to do fun pursuits! How tempting that sounded!

Other parts of the lecture were based on discussions my husband and I had had in the past and some is a rehash of things he and I have separately and together stated.

"If you want to be an engineer, you have to go to college. To go to college for engineering you have to learn certain things. High school classes are probably the hardest and worst in your whole life, because you are forced to learn certain subjects and not all of them are things you want to learn about. Our government and the colleges have decided what things must be learned in the school years and we are complying with that. You have to go by the rules our society has laid out if you want to do certain things. You do not have the option of making up your own rules and defining how the game is played. Life doesn't work that way, not in America and not anywhere else either.

When you get to college and you major in something you love it may be hard work but it is more enjoyable because most of it is learning about the field you love. But you will never get to engineering school if you don't do the prerequisite work the colleges require. It is a fact. If you want to study a topic in college you have to do the prep work they require for that major.

If you are unwilling or unable to do the work, or if you choose to not do what your mother and I tell you to do because you think you know better than us, then you will reap the seed you have sown. It will be time to apply to college and you will find that you are not ready as all that prep work takes years not just months. You may wind up not being able to do what you say you want to do because you will not have done what the colleges require.

We want you to fulfill your dreams. We want you to have options. If you say you want to be an engineer we will help you by plotting the path which that requires. If you decide that you won't do the work to get to your goal that is a choice you are making for yourself. You are closing the doors to opportunity, it's not us closing them for you. I won't be the one closing doors for you, only you can do that. I can't do your work for you. You actually have to do it. You have the control and it is up to you as to whether to take advantage of the opportunities that you have been given. Your mother and I have worked hard to give you options and chances.

If all you want is to sit around and be a couch potato as that's more fun than learning to write an essay or learning something in math that is not coming easily to you, you are closing doors. Your mother and I know what it takes to get to certain goals and we are here to raise you and help you along that path. But if you choose to not listen to us and if you refuse to do the work necessary for what you say you want to do, we can't help that.

Whatever your goal is, we will help you with it. Engineering is hard! If that's what you want we will help you. We are not forcing this on you, this is what you say you want."

At that point my son agreed that engineering was still what he wanted to do, even though it was already feeling like hard work in eighth grade.

My husband concluded with more about his own feelings.

"When you are grown up maybe you will hate me or maybe you will appreciate me, I don't know. But I need to do what is right in my heart as to do less is something I could not live with myself about. My father did that for me and I am doing the same for you. As an adult I know my father was a great father to me even though sometimes he did things that made me hate him in the moment, like weeding that vegetable garden for hours and hours every weekend and mowing the lawn.

If you disown me when you are in your 20s and never speak to me again I will be fine with it as if I do something other than what I think is right I just could not live with myself for the rest of my life."

I was speechless throughout that lecture. I just sat there and listened and watched. The lecture was deeper than I thought it would be. I thought it would just be a restatement of previously said things like "do your school work and listen to your mother and cut the crap and drop the attitude and that means no eye-rolling either".

At the conclusion I was quite moved because my own parents had let me down by doing things that had made me happier in the moment. My parents had low educational expectations of me for school (my own movitation to succeed in school was internal until burnout started to set in during sixth grade and was in full force by ninth grade). My parents had zero goals for post high school education and my father even had negative views of a college education. It is hard to put into words what it feels like to have goals and dreams but have no true support network to help you achieve them, when you are not really able to do it all on your own.

My situation impacted my life's path. I got off on the wrong foot so to speak or maybe I should phrase it that I started off lacking some of the tools I needed to succeed at my goal. While in school I received little emotional support from my parents and after fourth grade I didn't receive any homework help at all, for example, let alone being told that there is value to higher education and that I should strive to go to college and hope for a career in something other than an entry-level no-skill job.
I also was raised in a lenient environment with not enough limits. Having too much personal freedom and being allowed too much independence in the teen years taught me some good things through the School of Hard Knocks but I also experienced some bad things that I wish I was spared. At age 19, at a weak point I was being courted to join a cult but that is another story.

For years before becoming a mother I vowed that if I ever did have children that I'd be a different kind of parent in an effort to raise my children better or more ideally than I'd been raised. My life could have been a real mess if certain events played out fully. I was a Godless person back then, and I was saved from some situations by what seemed later to have been only what could be considered The Hand of God. Someone was looking out for me. I felt that not everything that happened to me, good or bad, was directly being controlled by me (that is the life philosophy I was raised with).  Realizing that was what set me to spirituality as I sought answers to questions I had.

I want my kids to have more options than I had myself, and I want my kids to have better, more informed guidance than I had. (Perhaps my own situation has caused me to take the raising of my sons so seriously and maybe it is why I have gone above and beyond the typical by homeschooling them.) Giving my kids the best I could offer (my time and my energy, I don't mean toys or material possessions) is something I discussed when I was dating my husband. We are in agreement on that. From the start of our relationship we have shared hopes, dreams and goals.

My husband is a fantastic person. He wanted to help me change the course of my life to meet some of my unfinished goals and to get more in line with living what I said I wanted for my life.  Soon after we met with his support and guidance I re-enrolled in college after formerly dropping out, and later he encouraged me to seek a better job than the one I felt stuck a rut with. My husband was so supportive, and I trusted his judgement on helping our kids too.

So after hearing my husband give that lecture about being able to live with himself if our kids hated him for doing the right and best thing I wound up almost instantly agreeing and accepting that notion. What my husband said helped remind me of the importance of perseverance and staying on course even when the going gets tough. This mindset can be applied toward general parenting issues as well as education and homeschooling any child, whether they are a strong willed child or not. My husband's lecture helped me by reminding me of the bigger picture of what we are trying to accomplish and I felt refueled and rejuvinated.

Note: This post was inspired by a comment that a first-time blog visitor of mine left yesterday, on my post about Homeschooling a Strong Willed Child (written in 2006).


Bill Starr said...

Great article. Tweeting a link.

Judy Aron said...

Definitely the best post I have read this week - you guys understand what it is to parent. Bravo - and interestingly enough we had these same conversations with our kids. Ultimately they came to know that their choices were theirs and that certain choices close windows of opportunity.
Thanks for writing this post.

Joi said...

Thank you for this post. I am struggling with my oldest right now. We are having a hard time getting motivated and staying on track. I think that it is partly my fault, because I get easily distracted.

Thank you once again.

Crimson Wife said...

I always keep in mind that famous Mark Twain line about how ignorant his father was when Twain was 14 but at 21 he was astonished by how much the old man had learned in 7 years :-)