Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It'll Build Your Character

If I had a nickel for every time my Dad said that growing up, we could retire to Alaska.

It was torture sometimes. Calling to find out information from a store, going on outings away from home for a week at a time, saving my allowance and paying for something myself, transacting business with local companies when I had a seemingly debilitating fear of doing something wrong, going up and making a friend, riding a bike, working on something that was sure to cause early death due to manual labor, finishing chores when everybody else in the whole world was outside playing because they had nice parents; I remember it all like it was yesterday. I was convinced I was the only kid anywhere with a dad concerned about character, and I wasn't convinced I needed any at all.

Hmph! I didn't die or meet some unconquerable quest. In fact, I gained some pretty great realizations about myself and abilities. I also developed an ability to be comfortable with myself. Add that to a bunch of people going the other way and it's a different story, but for this story, we'll leave it there. Funny thing those parents. They do know a little bit I guess.

I now find myself in the character building mode with some of my children. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "I hope you have a child just like you when you grow up." I think I mighta just gotten your wish dear parents o' mine; times 5 even. The great part about it is, I enjoy allowing time for life to be the teacher and not feeling pressured to conform with whatever outside source is trying to break through. I also have a clear perspective that these things take time and I cannot expect instant results. Instant results never yield true character.

Let me be clear, I have great children. But they are normal children that mouth off and disrespect, refuse to conform to my idea of what is best in a particular situation, and so on. My children are incredible actually; we get comments quite often about how much so. There is one thing that is particularly difficult for me though. I get comments, a lot, like this, "You can do it because you have such great kids." Aren't all kids great? You know this character building stuff is hard work. It really is. I put a whole lot of thought, effort, prayer, teaching, and training into it, and my ego is bruised when people think my children were born obeying my every whim and speaking to me as though they worship the ground I walk on. My children are great, but come into my home and you'll see the same things you see in yours.

Man that ego! Yep, I've got one.

A friend happened to be here one day when one of my children decided it was time to test boundaries with other people watching. It was a particularly incredible example of putting me in my place. I followed my usual broken record calm mom mode and stated that the behavior was not welcome in our home and didn't work for our family goals, then told said child they needed to go out to the garage step. I repeated this several times before the child's will bent far enough to 'exit the building' on its own accord. All the while, I was called lovely names and had statements with vicious intent hurled at me. My friend was shocked. Her comment, "Wow! Your kids really are normal." was enlightening to me. People really do think I live some idilic life with porcelain dolls for children. Wow!, is right.

She added, "You remained so calm. I couldn't do that." I beg to differ. Anybody can do it. You just have to create the proper environment for yourself to be able to do it. I focus a lot of my efforts on first understanding myself, and what I need to remain calm in teaching and training, before I try to parent. I was not offended by my friend's remark, it just opened my eyes to how people see me and our family. It made a lot of things make sense instantly.

I read something from a mom of 10 children recently. She related an experience of many years ago when her children were young, as they are now all adults with families of their own. She was that lady. You know, the one with the 10 perfect children, arriving 15 minutes prior to the start of services in order to listen to the prelude music and evoke reverent hearts, they sat perfectly still, never fought, always listened, and of course, never disobeyed or strayed. You know, that lady. She cried all through church one Sunday because it had been a particularly challenging feat to get everyone to church on time and seated. Not to mention her husband was a part of the clergy and arrived hours early so she was doing this all on her own. Someone behind her leaned up and said, "I don't know how you do it, I suppose I could do it too if I had your perfect children." She felt judged, harshly.

The tears flowed all through church services and she was devastated. It took an extreme amount of work to pull of what she did each and every day, let alone the Sabbath. Sunday preparations would start early Saturday morning and by the time she was sitting in a nice little row with her children and all their smiling faces, any number of things had transpired and been handled. Her priority was to create a calm and reverent experience for her family. She spent many hours of her week (and life) making that happen and to have it all chalked up to being such a breeze because her children were perfect, was more than she could take that particular day.

Having had similar statements made about my children and having been referred to often as, that lady, I can empathize with her. I haven't ever had that kind of emotional reaction, but I have felt robbed of the opportunity to say, "You know what, it takes a lot of work to do what I do, and while I love my children and would never take away from their role in it all, it's not a cakewalk most days, and I deal with the same stuff you do." I guess I've said it now :)

Turns out character is not such a bad thing and it does take building. I am grateful I had parents willing to navigate the storm called Amy, and stay fully anchored. I see so many children today that don't have parents willing to take the time, put forth the effort, and stay the course. It's easier to follow popular culture, placating, coddling, and hovering to the point of robbing opportunities for character building. I am sure my children dream of such parents, hopefully they will understand and thank me later. For now, I am towing the line (along with my husband of course!) and buildin' that there character as solid as I know how.


Danielle said...

I am certainly not "that mom" but even I recognize it takes a lot of work and effort to raise your child up right. And deep down, all other moms know this too. They may try to excuse it away, but they know. Good parents who follow through are consistent and do the "work" make good kids. This is why I am always trying to follow the example and ask "those moms" how to reprimand my children and keep on trying on my consistency and follow through.
Oh and my Dad ALWAYS said that! "It builds character." For early mornig seminary, for the two jobs I worked in high school, for paying my own car insurance, clothes, gas, spending and saving-in high school. For dressing modestly-which i didn't always do as a kid-when my parents weren't looking. And their kids are turning out pretty good-because of all those charcter builders.
Thanks for sharing!

Amy said...

Thanks Danielle,

I am glad to know I was not the only one being tortured in my youth!

I am sure you are more, "that lady" than you know. Keep up the good work.