When I started having children it was a very deliberate process. We entered into this marriage to have children and we did not delay. We spent our years courting planning on our family, taking parenting classes, reading books and teaching our younger brothers and sisters to gain valuable insight into the family we wanted to establish. Early on I wanted to teach my children to be independent, and to make choices for themselves. I had no idea how hard that would be.
I was full of hope and promise as any young father is. I was still in school at the University of Utah when my first two boys came. Like so often has happened in my family things came in batches. I quickly had to grow as a Dad and with my older boys I made plenty of mistakes that I now avoid with my children. For example, I was quick tempered, and strong willed. I got caught up in the trap I see a lot of parents make these days, the idea that my kids were a reflection of me.
I found that with two boys from different mothers there were common traits that couldn’t help but be from me. If there was something about myself I did not like and it manifested itself in my boys I was quick to want get it out of them. Other times I unwittingly turned my boys into competing with each other for my approval, and many other errors as a parent. If there is one truism in parenting, it is tough and they don’t give you a manual!
But in those mistakes, in those trials as a parent I really emotionally bonded with my older boys. I learned with them, I cried with them and I was their idol, and they were my pride and joy. When they got to the teenage years we certainly had our rough times though. As I have learned is now common with teenage boys, they pulled away, turned to their friends for acceptance, and challenged us in our values. I found myself hurt, confused and often times unable to reach out to them.
My older boys found it easy to blame polygamy for anything and everything bad in their life. If they did not fit in, did not get a cell phone, or a myriad of comparisons that came up with their friends, the one common theme to them was our polygamous family. Like me, my boys were strong minded and hated to be told what to do, and I learned that my guiding principle of my faith, what we call “free agency” had to be not only understood, but practiced if I was to get anywhere with them.
I feel like it is our job to raise our children to be on their own and make choices for themselves. At 14 we encourage our children to get a job, and we begin to charge them “rent”. We credit them for school. This does many things. It teaches them that they are responsible for their choices and that there is an accountability to the family. Also it tells them that we value education; so long as they are in school, including college, their rent is minimal.
We also have them pay their own insurance and car, phones, and anything above and beyond what we budget for their school clothes, i.e. top brand names. My younger teenagers now accept it and though at times they complain they know it is the way it is. But the older boys had a tough time, again wanting to blame it on polygamy. They now look back and appreciate the lessons learned from it.
By the time they are 18 we expect them to be on their own. I now have 5 moved out and over 18 with the sixth ready to leave in a few weeks. And it is they that often cause me the most worry and grief. It turns out we are in a new stage of our life: kids leaving the “nest.”
As our children leave and make their choices, it is still tough to let go, especially when you see the consequences. Our daughter, Laura who is married has talked about having the baby in Mexico where her husband is from. We were concerned about the lack of medical facilities there, and I very much wanted her to choose differently. It was hard from even wanting to hint to them my preference, which I felt important to do. I figure if they want advice they will ask, and I find that is the only time they really listen anyway.
Recently my son, Caleb was babptised into the LDS, or Mormon Church. We showed up with all the parents, most of the older children, and I think quite suprprised the bishop, who remarked on the size of the multitude there to witness the event. He asked us to get up and state our relationship to Caleb and why everyone was there. All three of his mom’s, got up and proudly proclaimed that they were his mother and were there to support him in his choice.
Needless to say there were a lot of shocked faces. I wondered how many of those church goers would have come to a Fundamentalist baptism if one of their children were in similar circumstances? My feelings were very torn that day. I was proud of him. Caleb is an immensely talented musician, scholar and a good person. He had expressed to me that he felt the Church gave him the structure and helped him in his relationship to God. I could not feel bad about that aspect.
However, as the time came during the baptism for what we call the “confirmation” where they asked all the “worthy members of the Priesthood” to lay their hands upon his head, I realized at that moment I was both literally and figuratively outside of that circle. Though the priesthood is one of the most important aspects of my life, and while I can recognize their priesthood, they do not recognize mine.
It saddened my heart to think one of the most sacred and important parts of my lives was not fully connected with my son. Such is the consequence of choice. I was both happy for him and sad for me. Choice by its nature means our children will not choose right all the time, or certainly will not choose what I think is right. Yet I believe that is God’s plan as well. None of us do choose the way we should all the time. That is the reason for His grace.
For me, I have tried harder to reach out to my son and connect to him on the many things that we do agree on. He is really so much like me in so many ways, and in many ways so much better of a person than I am. Ultimately I find in my letting go of my expectations of my kids I have grown as a father and as a person. They continue to grow me and expand me as a person. I find the more I think I know the more I find I don’t know. That in itself sums up parenting to me.
Love to hear from all of you parents out there who have gone through the empty nest, or are dealing with teenagers.