I am the youngest of three children. Growing up I thought this was some diabolical plan hatched by my parents to punish me. I was convinced everything was just so unfair! My brother and sister had more freedom. They had later curfews. They were able to do things I could not. It was not until I became an older teenager that I realized that it was indeed unfair but the level of “fair” actually worked in my favor, not theirs.
I can see it happening with my oldest son. That poor oldest child is somewhat of a test model from day one. We, the parents, are thrown into on-the-job training immediately. There are times that I worry about the mistakes we make with him and how we will be able to correct many of them by the time my second son gets older and even more so as my young daughter grows up.
Here is just one of many examples where my on-the-job training failed me: Driver’s Ed. My son turned 15 in September. (I know! I am hardly old enough to have a son that age!) Well, there are things you just have to find out from friends or through the grapevine as they age. I found out (about a month too late) that in order to get your driver’s license you have to have had a learners permit for at least six months prior to being eligible to receive your real license. I felt as if I had let him down by not knowing this and waiting until it was passed that six month mark. You see, we had a tradition when I was growing up that on your sixteenth birthday you went to the DMV, took your test and (hopefully) left as a licensed driver. Well, nowhere in my (non-existent) parent manual did it tell me that you have to get them into a class quickly after they turn 15 or you will miss that window. Now? Now my son will wait a month or two after turning 16 to be able to drive. Not that it is a huge tragedy but it is something I “messed up” for him. It is all because of this “rule” that I did not know.
I realize that is hardly grounds for a Bad Mother of the Year Award. However, I do feel badly that I did not even know such a rule existed. I have found over the years that there are plenty of these “rules” and ways to do things that unless you have been through it or have friends who have been through it, you just won’t find out on your own. I finally figured out to tap into friends who have older kids. (For that matter, I have no problem stopping strangers with older kids to ask questions either!)
It is more the principle of having my oldest son used as our test model that worries me. What other things do I not know that will handicap him in life yet benefit his brother and sister? I look at the parenting decisions my husband and I have made through sheer ignorance and wonder if he is growing from our mistakes or being held back. I know he is a good kid. That is never a concern for me but I do ask myself if he is getting all the benefits of a child his age or if he is missing out by being the first and having clueless parents.
I know it affects him because I have seen it with my own brother and sister. When we are all together and talking about our childhood, there are times it seems as if we did not even grow up in the same household with the same parents. I remember laid-back parents who overlooked more, gave later curfews and realized that they can’t (and shouldn’t) protect me from all of life’s dangers. My sister did not have that. My brother had a taste of it. But me? The youngest? I had it made. By the time the third child is growing up I believe my parents found their groove and knew the routine. I not only benefitted from the mistakes they made with my sister and then brother, I thrived in the change of parenting styles.
I know that I will have learned a lot by the time my daughter grows up. But in the meantime, I have to ask myself if it makes it that much harder being a teenager with parents who are learning right along with the teenager, or does it make him stronger? I suppose I won’t really know until his tell-all book comes out or he drags me onto Oprah. For now I am just going to do the best I can knowing that I will make mistakes. Hopefully, I will learn from them and my son will grow from them.
I suppose that really is what this parenting thing is all about after all.