Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Teenagers aren't that bad

As parents I think half our job is to mold and shape our children, and the other half is to be molded and shaped by them.

Lately I've been amazed at the growth in my 14 year old. This past year, even just this past few months he has grown up before my eyes. He is becoming a man and losing some of his irresponsibility, some of his selfishness. He's struggled in life. Been flip flopped from one parent's house to the next every other weekend. I still remember forcing him into the car and watching them drive off, him kicking and screaming. That killed me and I would drive home sobbing. His wishes have often gone unheard, as he was just a child.

But his wishes were and are just as important as ours. His father and I disagree on things when it comes to parenting him. Of course we do, we couldn't even make our relationship work. He thinks I'm to soft, I think he's too harsh. Often times I probably AM too soft, in an effort to balance the harshness of his ways.

Sometimes I fear he doesn't see Austin, really see him. The child who knows more about history than anyone I know, it amuses me because my father, who Austin has never met was a high school history teacher. The child who has helped his friend off drugs, off alchohol. In doing so he created a reputation for himself. Being judged by the company he kept and that was the risk he took to help his friend. The child who will wear a t-shirt to school that reads "my mom ROCKS" and not think twice, he's THAT confident. Sometimes I think his father misses out on who Austin is, constantly overshadowed by what he's not.

Austin hasn't always been easy to deal with, what with inheriting his fathers goofball nature and eagerness to amuse, even when it means getting himself into trouble. He has inherited some of the very traits that made the relationship with his father impossible. He has behaviors that make his teachers and his parents want to string him up by his earlobes to the flagpole until he comes to his senses.

Every parent teacher conference starts with "Austin is such a spunky boy with that smile that will melt your heart". I actually have to supress a giggle everytime I hear it because I know it will be followed by "but...." Austin struggles immensly in school. I often wondered if he'd ever learn, how he would pursue his passion of going to culinary school if he couldn't pass a class. Austin is the first person I've known to fail phys ed........ It has kept me up nights.

Until this past spring Austin showed me something that renewed my faith in him, calmed my fears, and made me realize that things were going to be ok. This walk with him was a walk that I will sometimes lead, sometimes follow, and sometimes walk beside him.

I had planned to homeschool Austin through the virtual school program. In preparation I had to give Austin an 11 page test, to figure out where his placement would be and what books we would order. I went page by page, making sure Austin understood what to do and leaving him to do it. It was that day I realized that my son is a VERY intelligent child. He had led us all to beleive for so long that he coulnd't and as it turned out he was paying attention all along. Even through the behaviors, the being asked to leave class, the detentions, the suspensions. HE GOT IT. All this time I didn't even think Austin could properly read, then I watched him write a 2,000 word essay with nearly perfect grammar. I thought Austin couldn't do math and then I watched him figure out equations like nobody's business.

It turned out all my son needed was some confidence. All he needed was to show someone, without pressure, that he wasn't an idiot. That he didn't need a "kick in the ass" like his dad mentioned at the last conference. He needed someone to beleive in him and support him. He didn't need me in his face telling him what he was doing wrong, he needed me to allow him the space to figure it out on his own.

It was a wow moment for me and I'm unsure why I hadn't realized it before. Austin learns like I do, his way. To this day I don't do algebra "right", however I'll get the right answer every time. In high school they decided I couldn't do algebra and gave up. In college they tried to teach me the "right way" and then conceded that my way WAS my right way. Austin knows what they are teaching him. Through all the giggling and paper throwing and comments and whatever, he's absorbing everything they are saying and really is unbelievably smart.

So this summer I've been working on supporting him and building his confidence in what he knows, no pressure. Sometimes I sit in awe listening to him tell his siblings about the attack on Pearl Harbor, or talk about the theories on how the moon was formed.

Austin and I have been developing a great relationship. We talk excitedly about his plans to start fresh in 9th grade in the fall in a new school. Public school is the right place for him, I now know that.

He does his chores without being asked and offers to do some of mine. He watches his siblings when I teach prenatal classes on Wednesday nights and refuses to take my money for doing so. He goes grocery shopping with me even though he hates it, because he wants to help. And best of all, he cooks with me... asking questions and itching to learn everything there is to know.

So, John.... I know you think I'm too soft on Austin. I know you think that I should be strict and harsh and demanding on him because that's the correct way to parent. But you know, when Austin tells me that he loves being home because it's calm and no one is yelling and screaming all the time, that tells me that maybe your way isn't really working as well as you think. Maybe your way is only serving to push Austin away.....


Heather P. said...

I think in the middle of parenting we sometimes forget that children ARE people too. People that have their own feelings, thoughts, ways and ideals. It's our job to mold them into moral and productive adults, but it's also our job to let go and watch them discover themselves along the way, with a touch of guidance of course. We're fairly strict parents, however I am like you...much more lenient than William. My older boys have numerous times seen something others their age have done that they KNEW was wrong and brought it to my attention...I then used those instances as lessons as to why I remind them to act certain ways and why not to do other things (they DO get it). Great post, and way to show your parents your intelligence Austin!!

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

It's a great feeling to realize that, despite all your worries, your child is really turning out okay! We used to worry so much about our oldest and it is such a relief seeing him turn into a responsible, hardworking young man. Enjoy your son! He sounds so smart and personable. Maybe school is just too boring for him...(says the homeschooling mom).