As I have shared before, my parents raised 9 children born in 11 years. No twins. 6 girls, 3 boys. We were divided into our self-described “5 older ones” and “4 younger ones” by a 3 year gap. I am the second to last, a younger one. Ours was and is a raucous bunch. There were lively debates and thought-provoking discussions. There was roaring laughter and buckets of tears. There were moments of selfishness and abundant generosity. There were heated arguments, rebellions, and gentle reconciliations. Doors were opened, some were closed, and many were slammed. Memories were created traveling the world, in our own backyard, and around the dinner table. Lots and lots created around the dinner table, where a whole lot of parenting and patience went into raising 9 independent, rebellious, loving, sharing, demanding, giving individuals.
I recently began thinking about the amount of “character” that was molded at that dinner table. Conversations often required critical thinking skills, challenged opinions, and usually involved current events. There was rarely a “lull in the conversation.” A few weeks back, I intentionally directed our dinner conversation beyond discussion of the day’s events, plans for the upcoming weekend, or the evening TV line-up. I brought up subjects that required critical thinking, but weren’t entirely “dry” for teens. i.e. Did, in your opinion, Conrad Murray commit manslaughter? Why or why not? Should the “Occupy” occupants be stopped? Why or why not?, etc. Though best friends, my daughters see the world through very different lenses. Lenses I know fairly well. Thus, their answers were somewhat predictable, but the point was to get them thinking and talking. To get us all thinking and talking–because conversation is the most powerful “tool” I have in my parenting toolbox.
One evening, I brought up the idea we take a portion of our Christmas budget and, as a family, consider purchasing the gift of an animal through the newly arrived World Vision catalog. (Similar to Heifer International or Samaritan’s Purse.) I explained the nature and purpose of the different gifts. I talked about our role in the global community. I talked about generosity and giving to others when we have been blessed with so much. My older daughter was on board without question. Though no pushover, she loves helping people and, if she could, would wrap her arms around the entire world. It was the response of my younger daughter that caught me by surprise. She wasn’t sure about the idea at all. She casually looked through the catalog and said, “No. I don’t think so.” For a moment, I was speechless. Then, I wanted to rant about selfishness and “the reason for the season” before announcing she didn’t really get a say in the matter because I had already decided what we were all doing.
Then, I realized what a beautiful opportunity she had presented; the opportunity to better understand her, how she thinks, and, perhaps do a little molding. I opened my toolbox and started a conversation. My little A loves animals. No, she is passionate about animals and often connects with animals better than humans. She has a heart for the underdog and rarely holds her tongue if she sees an injustice, even if it means confrontation. She came into this world knowing when “her no is NO and her yes is YES” and she makes no apologies for either. And, she has a very tender heart–which is no small part of the reason I was shocked by her response to my proposal of gifting some chickens. I asked questions and she asked questions. We were both looking for understanding; understanding of the other’s position without feeling manipulated or bullied into agreement. Like me, if she feels pushed too hard, she pushes back, so I clarified misunderstandings, provided more details, and heard her out. Although, I knew there would be no concession, “You’re right, Mom” that evening, there was conversation and through it, some gentle character molding. I left her with the catalog to decide for herself whether or not she would be a part of the family gift.
At dinner the next evening, she announced she was board with the decision, but wanted to give a duck rather than chickens. She had studied the catalog and reached her own conclusion, with a little help from our discussion. I was proud of her. I was proud because she challenged me and maturely accepted the challenges I presented her. She asked questions, she listened, and she researched before she came to her own decision. For her, a large concern was whether or not the donated animals would receive proper care once placed with the recipients. I was proud because she showed compassion where I had not given much thought; to the animals themselves. Most of all, I was proud of her because she thought, for herself.
My children are both kind and compassionate individuals. They are respectful towards me, my husband and others. They follow rules and respect authority. All of which are admirable qualities. However, they are not blind followers. They think, they question and they discern. Are they influenced by the voices of others, including my own, their dad’s, their peers’, and the media’s? Sometimes. Do they always make the choice I hope for? No. And, are they occasionally argumentative with me and/or my husband? Absolutely. They are teens! Raising children who think for themselves can be many things: exhausting, frustrating, infuriating, and sometimes, even amusing. Most of all, it is rewarding because when my children show me they know how to evaluate information and make good choices while still at home, they’re showing me they’ll (hopefully) to do the same once they leave home. And, when raising a “thinking kid” feels more infuriating than rewarding and I want to scream, “Because I said so!”, I ask myself, “Who’d ya rather raise? A kid that just follows or a kid that can think and chooses to follow–or not?” Then, I take a deep breath and invite them to join me at the dinner table for a little character molding.
How about you–who’d ya rather–and why?
© 2011 Mary Lanzavecchia/Transitioning Mom