Monday, January 19, 2009

Is Ignorance Really Bliss Where Our Kids are Concerned?

The adage "ignorance is bliss" is true, to an extent. If I never knew what questionable actions my children had and have engaged in, if I believed in what they tried to pass off as truths, if I firmly believed that my angels were actually angels... Well, I would be blissfully happy. Perhaps I would be sporting no grey hairs, barely visible worry creases between my eyes, nor nagging headaches. I'd be content, peaceful and serene 24/7. I would also be a certifiable fool. And as my kids can well attest, I do not suffer fools gladly.

There is another cliche: "Nobody's perfect." I most certainly am not; not as a woman, a wife or as a mother. I was recently introduced on a local news channel as "knowing how to successfully raise children." I cringed mightily inside and had to choke back tears. "Successfully?!" When I watched the tape later with my family, I had to pause the segment after hearing those words again, excuse myself briefly, and go into the bathroom to weep. Does "successful" mean your kid never screws up? What exactly is the criteria for being "successful" as a parent? It is too large a concept for me to wrap my head around. Because not only am I not perfect, but my children are not as well. Everybody - absolutely everybody in this world - makes mistakes. Some are small, tiny, maybe imperceptible, and others are loud and bold and not easily forgivable, nor forgotten. I teared up because my kids have orchestrated their own missteps and sometimes I feel as if I might have been asleep at the wheel, or wasn't the proper role model, or assumed the best when the worst is always possible.

I had a friend in Weston who once wondered why, one by one, her nine-year-old son's friends began to decline playdates - myself included - though I never brought myself to completely cut her son out of my boy's life. Her son was a bully of sorts, whining when he didn't get his own way and prone to pushing when frustrated. If I recall, one mother had tried letting her know what was going on, gently of course, but I'm not sure if my friend brought herself to fully recognize or believe that could possibly be true. Perhaps you can see yourself in that scenario. Or maybe once your daughter was in middle school you figured she was coming home weepy due to the "mean girl syndrome," when in reality, she was the mean girl and the others were excluding her because of it. Getting to the bottom of what may actually be going on with your child, with the help of the school or friend's parents, I have found to be helpful.

I have heard rumors of, or actually witnessed, teen offspring of friends smoking cigarettes or drinking, and when their parents and I have discussed in generality such behaviors they are convinced that their son or daughter would never indulge themselves in these activities. I too have been thoroughly convinced of my own kids' innocence in such matters, until tips were offered from close friends. Though bliss was preferred a seed was nevertheless planted, I became suspicious, did some investigating, and lo and behold unhealthy and/or and unattractive experimentation was in fact part of reality. I was horrified, aghast - choose any synonym. The truth I am choosing to believe is that it has ceased. I'm no dummy though, and vigilance will continue. Another expression leaps to mind: "Once burned, twice shy." it applies to both me and my sons/daughter.

It is painful, though, not to trust your child completely. The lie can can leap out of the four-year-old's mouth: "No mommy I did not take this pack of gum from the grocery store" (when clearly a four-year-old does not boast a wallet full of cash); to an 11-year-old firmly telling you that the t.v. screen must have cracked on its own, in spite of the baseball bat lying carelessly at his feet, to your 18-year-old insisting that he is not drinking alcohol when confronted with empty beer cans discovered under his bed. What - did the beer bunny leave them there? The untruths can be head-spinningly astounding. "Just tell me the truth," I implore of them. "The consequences of lie upon lie are less - or even non-existent - if you tell me the truth." Accidents happen. So do spectacular lapses in judgment. The truth can often set you free.

And yes, the truth can hurt the parent. Upon learning of something uncomfortable, from a broken vase to a broken curfew, I have sat myself firmly upon the pity pot. I have cried for the unknown something I might have done better. I have cried for them and for the price they pay if the incident or indiscretion has harmed them in some way physically, socially or emotionally. This is not to say that my children are "bad" for they most certainly are not. Just as their dad and I slipped and fell during our time before them, so have and so shall they. The fact that mistakes are inevitable makes a parent feel helpless: We want to protect and to shield. We want bliss. We do not wish to be guilty-by-association. We want to believe that we have raised a straight edge child. Does it mean that we have failed if they occasionally flail?

Was I a happier camper when more freshly ignorant while raising my first-born? In the words of Sarah Palin, "You betcha!" But child by child my innocence has been chipped away, much like their own. Nobody expects to be disappointed or disillusioned, but it is part of the job description of "parent."

I'm not going to quit my job -- my "employees" are too precious. The bliss comes from having them in my life, warts and all.

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