Mother Nature or Mother & Father? Puzzling Together Nature vs Nurture
If you sit down in front of the television at dinnertime you might happen upon that icon of the American living room: Wheel of Fortune. It’s harmless fun, and I can totally see why fourth graders and grandparents nationwide enjoy solving the simple, catchy phrases over a plate of mac and cheese, although I wonder how the producers can still put together new puzzles after they’ve been on the air for, what, forty years now?
Stay with me. This post isn’t actually about Wheel of Fortune. I promise I will get to my point.
I never enjoyed the game because it feels silly to play something so easy. Still, while I fry my chicken and open my mail, it always feels a little annoying to hack out “THREE-CHEESE LASAGNA” when we’ve already been given all the Es and As. And often (too often) these hapless players miss it, seeing something completely ridiculous and incorrect. I watch them slack-jawed. What are they looking at? How can they NOT know the answer? It’s so obvious to EVERYBODY!
That’s my error. I have to remind myself daily that people don’t see things the way I do.
It makes me want to bang my head against a wall to not be able to clearly explain a simple political concept to one of my students. It makes me want to pull my hair out when my friends can’t agree on where to go for lunch and at what time, and don’t get me started on when somebody cancels at the last minute. It makes me want to rock and curl up in the fetal position when I have a conflict with other moms because we don’t parent the same way — when we fail to share the same perspective on how to raise our kids to be good men and nice young women.
There are three words that I don’t use ever. These three words are for but one purpose and that is to make excuses.
“They’re just kids” is a way to both explain disappointing behavior and to justify the tight grip a mother needs to have on her child’s life. This is my truth if no one else’s. It’s used to vindicate kids in moments when they have hurt someone’s feelings. It’s used to gloss over when your son made a poor personal choice and you want him to be forgiven. And it’s used when you want to excuse your daughter’s errors in judgment so you can reassert your need to drive her decisions more appropriately. In the same way I can’t comprehend how someone cannot solve _V_RYB_DY M_K_S M_ST_K_S, I am trying to accept that sometimes other people’s minds just don’t process things the way mine does.
That’s my problem, and I work on it daily.
On the parenting spectrum, I am on the far side of normal, out in the outlier area. I am not a parent who still regulates much of her child’s life. I am nearer a parent who kicked their kid out of the house at 18 to go make his way in the world, saddled up next to the “tough love” side of the bell curve. I’ve often said that if only he could drive and if he had enough money, my kid would be able to live completely on his own, even at 14.
I don’t want that; I’m just saying he could. He has a lot of freedom. He is learning to manage a fixed income, to live within a budget and to responsibly use a credit card. He manages his own schoolwork, and I don’t even know how to look up his grades. He arranges (and pays for) his own haircuts and schedules his own appointments because it’s just as easy for him to do it as it is for me. He decides the point at which he gets out of bed to take cough medicine because I don’t see the need to tell him to do something he clearly should know already. His room is usually a disaster so he often loses his favorite shirt and needs to (but can’t) wear things that are still dirty. He does his own laundry, or sometimes he doesn’t. I stopped letting that bother me a long time ago. He has been caught unprepared for many tests he didn’t make himself study for, and the grades that came the next day reflected his mismanagement of his time.
This bothers me, of course, but I stay out of it because he knows what he needs to do, and I have already passed the ninth grade. I do not contact his teachers on his behalf. Worst of all, he has been warned that when he drives, he will need to get a job and earn his own money. There is a part of me that knows this is the proper cycle of life for boys becoming men. But then there’s another part of me that feels guilty about this, knowing he will be one of the only one of his friends having those demands placed on him at that age. I dance with these emotions on a daily basis, questioning myself: Am I too hard on him? Do I expect too much? But I had these demands placed on me once, and I simply don’t see him as just a kid anymore.
What is the age of maturity nowadays? Is it a benchmark that most kids reach naturally, or does life and their parenting push them into it at all kinds of different stages? Who navigates that journey — Mother Nature or Mom and Dad? How does one explain the biology of the kids who raise themselves on the streets and turn out just fine versus the kids who grow up with everything and turn out to be totally worthless? What is the formula? Where is the handbook!? How do I play this game so that my kid turns out okay — so he turns out to be a good man and a good husband for somebody one day? What am I teaching him that could be damaging him? Am I denying him the comforts of pure, tender mothering? Am I teaching him not to wait around for a woman to take care of him? OR am I teaching him that he got the only mom in our circle of friends that lacks a nurturing gene? Why am I hard on him when he messes up? What should I be doing for him that I’m not? Why do I feel so alone in my approach, absolutely certain that no woman who has the time or the desire to read a blog could possibly agree with my parenting philosophies?
Ben is my best friend. Yes, that means I have committed one of the cardinal sins of parenting…you’re not supposed be their friend. But he and I have taken a different road than most and the dynamic between us is more evolved. I do help him, if I can and if he asks for it. I am kind and patient with him but our lives have toughened us both, and he has often been the stronger of the two of us. And when he makes poor choices, I make him answer for them because that’s what real men do.
I can’t treat him like a child when he was forced a long time ago to be a man for our family. I am generous, but moreso with my advice than with my money. Mostly I support him, encourage him, and tell him he is doing great because he is. I support his dreams, but yes, I also force him to live in the realities he creates for himself. I don’t mean to imply that he is raising himself. However, I do expect a lot of him for his age and I trust that he can handle it. I don’t nag or beg or expect or demand him to do anything because his decisions are his to make, with my guidance if he wants it. I have taught him above all else that he has to go out in the world and make it on his own, soon. He will make mistakes and he will answer for them, soon, because he is not just a kid; he is a man, already. I expect him to behave like one.
Mamas won’t agree with me. Daddies will shake their heads. I hope they all forgive me for being harsh or critical with my opinions of their parenting. I apologize for the times I hear myself saying, “You should…” These truths are mine and they remain true, if only just for me. The bottom line is you can’t tell people how to raise their kids and there really isn’t just one perfect way to do any of it, except for this one: _RA_.
On that, I think we will all agree.
Watch this for a good, humorous perspective: Motherhood….The Video.