When my children were younger I felt like I was always playing catch-up, scrambling up the learning curve to meet their needs. Somewhere past toddlerhood I guess I started to feel competent. Surprise, surprise, each of the children followed a similar developmental pattern. Lots of things were predictable. The “terrible twos” weren’t really so terrible. It was nice.
The trouble is that while I started to gain confidence, let down my guard, and even blog about the joys of “phase II” parenting…. the older ones kept growing up, bringing with them a whole new set of complex needs and struggles – ones I didn’t get any proper training to handle.
I remember that almost two years ago I was on the phone with our Rav, second guessing (again) our family size decisions. He cautioned me that I was about to hit a “whole new level of intensity and needs” as my children entered their second decade. As is so often true with advice, I couldn’t fully relate until it happened.
I know that “big kids, big problems” is a cliche, but I don’t know that this is always true. First, big kids let you sleep at night. Second, older children can often articulate what is going on. It’s a pleasure to receive more feedback than crying vs. not crying and I blunder through.
When I try to wrap my head around the fact that I am already dealing with boy-girl issues, I just can’t. They are just too young! Everyone around me also seems to react that they are “so young”. Then I remind myself of Jimmy M. in the 5th grade. Although oblivious to me and any of my thoughts and feelings, Jimmy caused a blowup with my father about the injustice of only being allowed to date Jewish boys.
It actually didn’t upset me too much that I was expected to date only Jews. It upset me that I was sent to public school in preppy-town, USA, with practically no Jewish population and then told I could only date Jewish boys. Perhaps this was a clever strategy on my father’s part, a means of putting off the inevitable.
But I doubt it. With hindsight, he probably made decisions about moving there when he was still in Phase I of parenting himself, and Phase II snuck up on him sooner than he had suspected as well. I suppose he couldn’t wrap his head around having boy-girl issues when I was in 5th grade any more than I can wrap my head around it now. I bet he had his first crush around that age himself. He probably only remembered that as he stood there post-blowup thinking I was too young.
The thing is, we never really get to stop scrambling up the learning curve trying to meet their needs, do we? I am not sure that we would want to. If I ever master meeting their needs, won’t that mean that their lives have stagnated? If they continue to grow and develop, this will mean an endless series of of new challenges, just like mine. Won’t that be a good thing?
I hope they will continue to grow, and I know that it means that I will have to as well. I also hope that they will continue to need me; seek my advice, solicit my support in the hard times, and welcome my applause in the good. My mother dropped her own life this last month and again last week to help me pack for our anticipated move. A significant evolution from fifth grade romance boundaries, it’s just a different, not lesser, call for help after all of these years.
And I know that they are glad I still call.
… I think all of this is what Hashem (God) wants me to understand of his relationship with me. He wants more than anything for us to continue to have challenges – always new, always harder – that are signs of our ongoing growth and development. Having to cry out to Hashem for help is a sign of both continued relationship and ongoing progress, just as in my relationships as both child and parent. He really doesn’t want me to be “there yet” and to stop growing… and he really wouldn’t want me not to call.
The key difference is that Hashem doesn’t have to run up the learning curve. He, as the ultimate parent, has already arrived. As for me? I am not there yet, and since I hope for my children to keep being challenged and therefore challenging me, I am pretty sure I never will be.