James Breakwell, a very amusing parent and writer, posted a Parenting Olympics list that showcased the variety of skills needed to raise the younger set of progeny. After I read it, I replied to him:
Very funny, though it seems that this contest rewards skills aimed at keeping your child from killing themselves, which is the point of parenting in the early years, in contrast with the later years being trying to keep the parent from killing the child. A very different sort of Parenting Olympics.
Parenting teens and young adults has its own unique trials that I probably shouldn’t post about in case those with the younger set imagine a time when their kid has the abilities to drive to the grocery store, fluently read the shopping list, pay with their own credit card, come home on time, put all the food away, and make you dinner- that it would ever happen. Or that you would want it to.
And that is the tricky part of Older Parenting Olympics; it isn’t a contest of physical skills or even stamina, it’s a mind game, a Battle of Wits, if you will, between you and your own immature self. Yes, you thought it was between the parent and teen, but alas, it really is a test of your ability to act like an adult in every trial instead of the petty, selfish, oblivious, sensitive teenager you still are inside.
The contest would be a series of questions with several factors to influence your decision with no right answer and whatever choice you make will result in a follow up challenge that you will ultimately fail because you didn’t see it coming. Actually, you never see these things coming. Let’s get to the challenges! (Replace genders as needed.)
Challenge One: You son asks you to pick up his original piece from the school’s art show.
You are very proud he was in the art show.
If it isn’t picked up, he may not get it back.
You had already said you would pick it up when he asked you last week, even giving you the permission slip to do so.
He got the date wrong and it’s not next week, it’s today.
You have a free schedule today.
You have a free schedule because you are sick and cancelled work which you rarely do because, well, money, which goes for things like college tuition.
It’s available for pickup from 9am-noon and he is texting you at 11:15am.
He is texting you from the beach on spring break.
You are in the midst of Not Spring in upstate NY.
He said please.
Your Answer: You get it for him.
Follow up challenge: This results in a heart emoji sent back, which doesn’t seem to cover it and you secretly hope he gets a little sunburn that day, then worry that he isn’t using enough sunscreen for real because last time he was at the beach he got sun poisening. You have an “emotional restraint challenge” of not texting a reminder about wearing a hat, and not feeling guilty about the previous petty revenge fantasy.
Sort of reward: He then also texts that he will make you dinner when he returns as a thank you. Feelings are mixed.
Surprise challenge: Later that evening your co-parenter both agrees and disagrees with your decision starting a “conversation” about letting kids fail so they learn to be independent. No one wins.
Your daughter is going on her first big trip. She is leaving for the airport early in the morning so you want to say goodbye tonight. Entering her room you see her finishing up her packing. You notice she is nervous. You are too because there are “issues.” Say all the right things.
Your Answer: “Don’t forget to say goodbye to Grandma.”
Follow up challenge: She turns to you with The Look. This is the same look before the tantrum at three years old, the running away at nine, and the flip outs at fourteen. You try not to tense. You have trained for this event for many years. The key is to remained relaxed, but focused. You still tense. She responds, “No. Why do I have to?” Is this a rhetorical question?
Your Answer: “Grandma will notice that you are gone for days, and it’s rude not to say good-bye, and she will worry because she cares.”
FAIL FAIL FAIL
Surprise Challenge: She snaps back, “But I don’t care about what anyone else is doing!” How do you respond? The judges of the Older Parenting Olympics are looking for creativity and a good story to tell your grandchildren.
The honesty of her response is staggering.
Equally staggering is that you know she thinks this is a very good and fair reason.
You were an idiot at her age.
Your parents still love you.
You want her to have a good trip experience.
If she has a good trip experience she will go away a lot.
You walk away. A couple hours later, ready for bed, you stand in the doorway of her room where she is going over a travel guide. You say, “what are you most looking forward to on your trip?” She looks up smiling and comes over to show you a couple cool places she wants to see. You hug and kiss. Two days into her trip she texts you happy photos and little message, “btw, I did say goodbye to grandma before I left.”
Disqualification! Later you share this story with other parents instead of the hundreds of complete failures. You don’t care.
I realize the Older Parenting Olympics may seem a discouragement to those with younger kids to continue the race course, but I assure you the “medals” are worth it:
Bronze: You are out with you older child and they make a joke that is actually, seriously funny. Not because they are cute or clever, but they have the same sense of humor as you do, see the world similarly, and most importantly, wanted to share it with you because they know you better than most people ever will, have seen your best and worst sides, and still want to make you laugh.
Silver: You drop them off at some random place and offer a quick good-bye, hoping to get home in time for XYZ when they say, “Thank you for everything you do for me. I love you.” Those exact words.
Gold (ish): They keep coming back home. (This may be the booby prize, but that’s up to you.)
Actual Older Parenting Olympics:
What? You thought that was it? Oh, no. That was just the qualifying round. The actual Olympics start with the realization that it was so much easier when you had a way to help or at least interfere because most days all you can do is bite your lip and watch as they fail in real life in ways that matter much more than an art show or being polite. In ways that break your heart as they have theirs broken again and again, and you wish the Olympics would just end already. Wasn’t there a cut-off? Eighteen? Twenty-one? When does the worry stop? Never. Instead of medals you get a friend, maybe a grandchild or two, and hope for the future in this person you know but don’t know, is you but is not at all you, is special and is very, very special always. Forever. All I can promise is that you get the only medal that matters, love.
Move with intention.