As I'm going through these days of parenting my first teen, I'm realizing that these days are just as hard as the sleep-deprived, newborn days, or the terrible-two's or the early days of elementary school with the "impulse control" problems, or the transition into middle school and the necessity of learning how to deal with six teachers and six different processes as opposed to the single teacher in elementary school.
Each phase has it's challenges, but these teen years, it's almost more difficult. And frustrating. Things at this point are out of my control, mostly. The foundation for "goodness" has been laid, or not. When your kid is towering a full nine inches above you, long gone are the days of picking up your kid to put him in timeout. The respect is there, or not.
I think I've done a good job - or at least as good as I can. I think I have good kids. Perfect, obviously not. But good enough. They know right from wrong. They know their manners, although regular use of said manners is sometimes forgotten. They've been taught some modicum of work ethic through chores and conversations with direct applications to my husband's and my jobs. They know that you have to do good job to get ahead. They know that there are performance reviews and "grading" even in the professional world and that (can) lead to raises and bonuses. These are real-world applications, not just theory, floating about to support these notions.
But it's still frustrating. There are times when they don't do what they're supposed to do. Times when they know they've made bad choices. And, as a parent, it amazes me that this parenting thing is not getting any easier. I know I've presented good, tangible lessons to help my kids be "good" humans, but they still have their moments. They fight and bicker. My husband says it's because they're boys, but I'm not convinced (having only one sister makes my sphere of personal experience lacking in this regard). The old adage "just when you figure it out, it changes" still applies.
And lately I keep returning to a lesson my father taught me. A lesson provided when I was a young adult, in the early days of my parenting. I'm not really sure it was a lesson, more than his observation to me about raising kids. He said raising kids is like managing a wind up toy soldier. You wind them up and set them down on a path. Every once in a while something will cross your toy soldier's path and cause it to stray. As the parent, your job is to tap that soldier back onto the right path. But you can only tap lightly. Tap too hard and the toy soldier will fall over. Ignore it and the toy soldier will continue down the wrong path.
I often come back to this lesson when I'm full of doubt about the "right" thing to do. My inclination is to rule with an iron fist, but that will only break a spirit and cause rebellion. But it is so hard to just tap lightly. It is so hard to admit that you actually have very little control at this point in their lives. But tap lightly I will. My job is not done yet.