Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mom, Could You Live My Life for Me?


This Sunday's Zits comic strip really struck a chord with me.

I am right now attempting to light a fire under my oldest son's butt and see if there is absolutely any motivation inside his almost 20 year old body to start taking over some of his own responsibilities.  It's been a tough search.  Even though I know he has a great heart and good morals, I still struggle to get him to do the basic things he needs to do to make progress towards his goal in life, which is to be a high school history teacher.

We went down to James Madison University last week to tour the campus and meet with an advisor.  After we had talked to her for about five minutes, I realized just how far away he is from getting to Madison next fall as a junior.  He has been working about 8 hours a week while he goes to school, which is great because he pays for his own gas and cell phone.  And with the mileage he gets and the price of gas, that's not such an easy task these days.  He has the cheapest cell phone plan he can get and limits his trips out to going to school and work.  And he's damned lucky he even has a job in this economy.  I am proud of the fact that he has held this job for over a year and that they really, really like him.

But, because of the 8 hours of working every week, he limited his class schedule to four classes a semester last year.  Which should have been 26 credit hours finished, except that he didn't like his English teacher and ditched the class regularly, resulting in his needing to retake the class this fall to have it count towards the transfer degree.  He also never took a language in high school.  Listen up parents - if you want your kid to get into a good school, make damned sure they take at least two years of a language in high school.  Preferably starting in middle school.  Also they are going to needs lots of those pesky science and math courses.  My oldest son is now at least four classes behind in getting into the school of his choice next fall, meaning he probably won't be going until the spring semester if he can't put off his language requirement until he gets there.

I see a fight coming with the middle kid this year, when he goes into his freshman year of high school, with him insisting he doesn't need the same classes that the oldest thought he didn't need and going the same route of not going for the advanced diploma because he doesn't want to take a language.

I fully take the blame for my oldest's lack of motivation.  I made excuses and let him take the easy way out.  I spoiled him and never insisted he do things for himself and now he has fallen into the pattern of allowing me to do everything for him, including signing him up myself for the SAT test because he didn't really see the reason for taking it.  I have done his taxes for him for the two years he has had to file since he turned 18 because I couldn't stand to watch him procrastinate doing it.  He knows that if he puts something off long enough I, exactly like the mom in the Zits comic strip, will get so anxious about it that I will either force him to do it at the last minute (holding his hand, almost literally, while he does it) or do it myself (assuming it's something I am able to do).

I am not proud of any of this.  I am enabling my son to continue to depend on me in a world that will eat him alive when I am no longer around.  I have not given him the skills he will need to live in the real world, which means I have failed at my job.  He is now too old for me to guide him gently.  I am having to shove with all of my might to force him into accepting responsibility for getting where he needs to be in life and it's not fun.

My middle son is five years younger than my oldest.  I see him wanting to take the same lazy, entitled route as his older brother did, and it annoys me greatly.  I have been on him ever since his entrance into middle school to yank his grades up and do his work.  Like his older brother, he is incredibly smart and completely capable of doing everything he needs to do to succeed in life.  Like his older brother, he believes he does not need to do the hard work now, because it can be put off until later.  I believe the mantra for them both must be "why do it today?  It's not due until...."

My oldest son jokingly told me last year, when he overheard me talking to my husband about his brother putting his work off and not getting it turned in, that if you are going to procrastinate, you need to be able to get to work and get it done at the last minute.  I didn't find that so funny.  Why procrastinate at all?  Why not just do it and get it done so you can have time to relax and know that you've taken care of business?

I have spent the last few years teaching our youngest son, who has autism, that it's far better to do the toughest thing first so that the rest of the ride is all downhill.  He is taking this teaching to heart.  He has a set time for his homework and doesn't stop until it's finished, even if it takes him three or four hours.  He has trouble asking for help, so sometimes I will walk past his room where he is supposed to be working and see him staring off into space.  When I ask him what's wrong, he will gratefully accept my guidance.  Sometimes I am exasperated and sometimes I know that I could do it for him in about five minutes, but I am working on restraining that impulse and making him do the work himself.  I am getting better at this as I watch my oldest son struggle to get where he wants to be in a year and possibly not getting there.

I'm sad that I've needed three children to learn how to parent right and I am sad that I have failed to teach my oldest the things he needs to know.  I have handicapped him by my desire to see him never have to do anything the hard way and I am ashamed that I didn't do it better.  I am trying to fix my mistakes now with him and to do a better job with the younger two.

How can loving your child so much end up being such a bad thing?  There's real truth to the fact that hovering over your child and doing things for them doesn't help them in the long run.  And you won't end up feeling proud of your parenting skills.


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