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Kids! Who'd Have Them?
child's drawing of family inside a heart-shape
how to cope when you do

At our age we ought to know best; at theirs they know absolutely everything! Neither of these are true, of course, each being based on a fair amount of arrogance which precludes seeing a situation from someone else's point of view. Is it possible to walk a mile in their shoes? We believe we could because we were young once and have the past to fall back on. As for our kids, they haven't been there and done that yet. The pain and disappointment of consequences are still to come, and until they do, our offspring only have our word for what they are about to receive; which, naturally, they will disregard out of principle. That pretty much sums up the reason for the war between young and old, a conflict we can never win, one our kids will eventually be fighting - and losing similarly - when they are our age.

Backing off isn't really an option. This simply means leaving them to their own devices in the knowledge that they will probably stuff up, making us feel guilty because we knew they would and we didn't do anything to stop them. But if you think about it, we learned by our mistakes - well, hopefully so - and trying to prevent them from making their own is, in effect, being poor teachers. We can't, however, be impartial observers. We brought them into this world and have a duty to guide and protect them as they grow. That's easily said when they are totally reliant and haven't reached the age where they start answering back. Unfortunately, they quickly progress to the point when anyone over the age of 21 is a dinosaur and not living in the real world. Then, what is left of our hair turns grey and we ask of ourselves, and anyone who will listen: "What have we done wrong?"

I can't tell you that, and I wouldn't presume to. This article isn't about how to bring up kids "properly" - that one is down to the individual and their chosen advisers. I am more concerned with coping when it all seems to have gone belly-up, the fateful day we awake to the terrible realisation that we have created our own nemesis. This is why we get so uptight. It seems to be the bane of our lives, a situation we can never resolve. That's our first mistake. The second is believing we have caused the first. Let's get it straight from the start - now is now and we have to live with it. Forget who is to blame. Just deal with it, or suffer! There are no other options. A harsh reality, maybe, but one we must face if we are to have any life with, or after kids.

So, where's the root of the problem, the one thing that's making our lives a misery? The answer, I'm afraid, is us - we are the cause of our own grief simply because we care for our children's well-being. We worry about how their lives seem to be shaping up, mainly because it isn't the way we imagined it would be. When our great expectations start fraying round the edges, we tend to blame the child for lacking the enthusiasm and drive to make them a reality. As is often the case, we are trying to re-live our own lives through them in the vain hope that they will achieve more than we ever managed. How unfair is that? My advice here is to observe their independent progress and just try to be helpful in ways that aren't over-bearing. If you stop wishing for a particular outcome, you can't get stressed if it doesn't eventuate. Give the kids some leeway and they might surprise you. Take a step back and let go, the same way you did when you were teaching them to ride a bike.

Okay, let's drop the eventual future prospects for the moment, get back to the present and take stock of what we will be inflicting on the world if we do nothing. Even the clothes they wear are a disgrace! "You're not going out looking like that!" we say. Why not? We don't have to accompany them - they wouldn't want us to. In fact, they would probably be mega-embarrassed to be seen out with any "olds", especially parents wearing daggy clothes. It's just not on. We have to remember that they are like we were at their age - maturing youngsters trying to establish their individuality in the few ways open to them. The fact that they all look alike only bothers us - it isn't a problem for them because it helps them feel a part of something fresh and new, members of the generation that will, one day, be ruling the world. If that dread-filled prospect is giving you a panic-attack, take a deep breath and chill out. When that time eventually comes, they'll do as well as any of their predecessors, hopefully better; and I guarantee that most will be wearing the appropriate dress of the day that even you in your dotage will find boring and conservative, always assuming you live that long.

Then there's the sudden lack of interest in the home. It's as if they no longer want to be there. When you were their age, didn't you reach a point when you wanted to strike out on your own, be with people of a similar age who did understand where you were coming from and weren't constantly criticising? Maybe you fancied having more than just a bedroom, a place that was less like a cell where you could invite a friend and not have to worry about having the music up too loud, or worse still, the chance of someone barging in muttering lame excuses when their real reason was to find out what the pair of you were up to. If your kids have reached the age when these things matter to them, it shouldn't be cause for concern - they are simply growing up. Accept that you've given them the best start that you could. You will still be their loving, caring parent until your dying day, but your role as minder and protector is almost done.

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