Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's the Second One, Stupid!

So, in thinking about raising children these days, I have come to some interesting conclusions.  Please understand that I have no professional background or education in child rearing.  I am a mom.  I gave birth twice.  And both children are now in their twenties and normal, caring human beings raising their own families.  There was a time when I was pretty sure we would not be able to report this success. 

So what did I learn that I might be able to pass on to those of you who are still in the tunnel of darkness that covers the teen years?  (It is a tunnel.  It is dark in there.  And there is an end.) 

It's the second one, stupid! 

Let me explain.  The first child has an advantage.  Ours, a daughter, was born two and a half years before her brother came along.  I devoted myself to her as did my husband.  In fact, I was pretty sure that one child would be enough.  But my husband wanted to try for a son.  And my daughter joined in, asking constantly for a baby brother.  So I agreed...or well, lets say I think they outnumbered me and I woke up pregnant. 

Then the party began!  With one child, I was able to do most everything I had done before children.  I continued to sew and bake.  We packed a few extra diapers and went out to the lake.  We went to parties and she nodded off to sleep in my arms.  I would place her somewhere safe and stay at the party until we were ready to go home.  We would jostle her, turn her over, put her in a cold car, move her again to get her in her crib and still she would sleep through the night.  You know the type.  First babies.

But the second baby added a complex set of new problems.  First off, just logistically.  How to get two children PLUS groceries into our small pickup?  Should the play area be a second bedroom, or should both children sleep in the same space and play in the second place?  Are pink pajamas an absolute no-no for boys?  What if they are the only warm pair in the drawer that fit? 

Many, many small decisions.  But in looking back, those decisions made for the second child were never made only with the second child in mind.  It was about what was best for both of them.  This is such a slight difference, yet I have decided it was huge.  From the time child #2 arrived, my time, thoughts and energy were split between him and his sister.

So, why do I think this is important for you to think about now?  Fast forward fifteen years.  The first child is now in high school.  We have very carefully guided her to this point.  She is nearing the finish line.  Rarely in trouble, doing well in school, looking forward to applying to colleges.  She will be the first in either of our families to go directly to college after high school; the first to just go for her education without obstacles and struggle.  This is a huge accomplishment for both of our families.  And everyone is assuming her brother, who has been shadowing her all along, will soon also follow on to a bright future.  My intentions as his mother, were to get his sister up and over the hump - then directly focus all of my energy on finishing up with him to get him bridged over to the same success and happiness.  I was going to be 100% mom to him for those last few years of high school.  I was looking forward to it (well, except for the parts where I had already decided the value of the high school experience is way overrated).

And this was where I fell through on my plan.  You see, the second child was already in his most critical decision making phase of adolescence.  While I was trying to finish things off neatly with child #1,........ #2 was in crisis.  And he didn't wait for me to get to my great plan.  He assumed that I was showing how much I cared, right now, and with that information a part of him decided he was not as worthy as his sister.  And then he gave up his grades, his friends, his future and decided to play in alcohol and drugs.

Now, looking back....child #1 was already on her way before this point.  Even without her parents' holding her hand, she was going to make it.  Not without lumps and bumps, but her path was already chosen.  And the time I spent reassuring myself that she would indeed make it those last few laps was the EXACT time I should have been hoofing it with child #2 - doing the everyday teen raising work that is absolutely exhausting with very little love in return.  He needed us.  He was trying to wait his turn, but biologically, it was his time to decide what direction his life would take.  With no one watching, he thought he could play a while before deciding.  He had great parents, he knew that.  He could just play a while and we would circle back around for him soon.  But that's the thing about alcohol and drugs.  They're not really "a thing" to play with and then put away.   And that team is always recruiting.

He spent a decade recovering from drug use and all that surrounds it. Lost years of childhood and adolscence that can't be recovered.  Scars from physical and emotional wounds.  And he missed the direct link to higher education.  I'm not sure it will ever be his thing, but I'm also pretty sure that he eliminated it as an option before he gave himself permission to try it. 

So, my advice to parents everywhere is.....It's the second one.  Stop.  Assume the first child will be fine if they are about fourteen to sixteen and not in any real crisis.  If there were going to be problems there, you would already know in your heart.  If you are just fidgeting, fussing and wondering if there are problems you can resolve with child #1 - STOP.  Take notice.  Go directly to child #2 and see how much time and effort you can flood into the little window of time you have left to devote to their childhood.

As I say, I'm not an expert on anything except being a mom in my own family.  But, I swear, if I were to do it over again this is THE ONE THING I would change.  He deserved more from me.  I didn't see it.

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