Parenting: 18 years down, countless more to go

October 14, 2010

Eighteen years and two days ago, my husband and I became parents. Tuesday was our son Jason's 18th birthday. Unfortunately, we didn't get much of a chance to celebrate, as I spent the day at a surgical center while my 14-year-old son Billy had surgery, after breaking his arm for the second time in four months. Talk about a day of mixed emotions!

I think Terry and I were like most new parents 18 years ago, when we brought our six-pound, 13-ounce baby boy home from the hospital. Excited, but also a little bit scared. We'd taken the parenting classes and I had my copies of the "What to Expect" books on the nightstand. But really, no matter how much advice is out there, parenting is pretty much on-the-job training. The challenges began with the middle-of-the night feedings and weird rashes, then ear infections and chicken pox. We compared notes with friends about when Jason talked (early) and walked (late). When he started pre-school, we worried about how he'd make friends. And then how he would adjust to having a little brother. With his October birthday, should we push ahead a year making him the youngest in his class, or keep him back so he'd be the oldest?

And the thing about parenting is that just when you think you've got it, there are new challenges because each child's needs are different. That's certainly been true with our three boys. Billy has had six surgeries for various medical issues and injuries. Watching doctors wheel your anesthetized child into an operating room is gut-wrenching. Trying to comfort him when he learns that he might have to stop playing a sport he loves because of the injuries he's had is almost impossible.

Making sure that your third child gets just as much as time attention as his brothers did, even though you're older and more tired, is another challenge we face. We want Micah to be his own person, not just Jason and Billy's little brother. That's not easy either, since his brothers are both tough acts to follow – academically, musically and athletically. Like the Energizer Bunny, those parenting challenges just keep going and going and going.

And with each of these challenges, I'm always wondering whether we're doing the right thing. I think 18 years ago, I thought I'd know this week whether I'd done it right. But I've learned that's not going to happen. I'll probably still be questioning my parenting decisions when my boys have families of their own.

But my husband and I got some good advice in those parenting some 18 years ago. The nurses told us that if we weren't sure of what we were doing, as long as we let our love for our kids direct our decisions, we weren't likely to hurt them and they'd probably turn out OK. I'm beginning to think that's true.

Billy's recuperating from having two plates and 15 screws implanted in his forearm. He knows he won't be going back on the football field this Fall, or wrestling this Winter. We'll deal with long-term decisions about whether he'll be able to play football next year once he's recuperated.

As for Jason, we're hoping to go out to dinner to celebrate his birthday this weekend. He's busy working on his college applications, playing football and spending time with his girlfriend, which is pretty much what a high-school senior should be doing, right?

So, even though it's been a tough week, I think we're doing ok. As they say, Parenting is the toughest job you'll ever love. Even if you never get to retire.

Here are some website with parenting resources – just in case you're looking for backup during your on-the-job training:

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