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Parenting Teens: Number 4 and Still Feel Like a Novice

After going through an experience for the fourth time, I would have thought we had this thing figured out, or atleast there would be no surprises. Boy, was I mistaken, and this miscalculation threw us for a loop that lingers today.

After two decades of parenting four children, we have learned a thing or two. We are not experts, but can draw from a number of experiences – good and bad – to share with others, as we have benefited from those who have shared stories with us.

At this point, we kind of know the kids’ milestones, attitude phases, and behaviors attributed to hunger, sleep deprivation or stress. We even have two kids of each gender, which just means we have experienced and are aware of slight differences in child-raising moments based on gender identity.

Having said all of this, why is it that child Number 4, our fourth one to be a teenager, recently reacted in a way that gave us a big surprise? I was so shocked, in fact, I felt like a rookie parent again, and questioned if we have missed the boat as parents, not only with this kid, but maybe even the other three before him.

Fortunately, the situation was not as dramatic as my reaction. My husband and I got some news that would impact our son. Based on the fact that this kid has been pretty chill most of his life, we thought he would handle it in stride. We let it sit a few days and then timed our communication so that he would learn it from us first, before the word spread amongst his friends.

We anticipated he would say it is okay, be sad for a few days and then get over it. We miscalculated. He flipped out, and may have even clearly enunciated a few swear words, but we were so shocked by his highly emotive reaction (that we clearly did not expect) that we just let those go at the time. This pretty easy-going kid, or so we thought over the years, told us in no uncertain terms that he was extremely upset and nothing we could say would make up for that. I was stunned and shaken at this response.

While I am fully aware that this moment will pass, the after shock has stayed with me. I find myself questioning, how well do I know this child? Have I gotten so “comfortable” in this parenting mode that I have made too many assumptions about his feelings? His sisters and brother had their moments, but this one I was not expecting, even after delivering relatively similar news to the others.

That is the challenge about parenting. In our house we have four children, same parents, yet each child reacts in a unique way, even under similar circumstances. It can rattle your confidence as a parent; even living through a situation for the fourth time does not mean you will know how to handle the situation any better than the last time.

Talk about being adaptable and flexible, two traits employers often look for in leaders, managing a family definitely requires learning how to manage others to perform, despite individual differences. (Don’t tell my husband, the primary family manager, please. He may come after me for a raise in pay. )

I am a big fan of Dr. Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability and her book, The Gift of Imperfect Parenting. Brown says we all know perfect parenting does not exist, yet, due to societal expectations, we spend a lot of time managing perceptions of the family that we actually show the world. Accordingly, when I was told the news about this situation, I explained that our child would be sad, but he would deal with it and get over it.

Talk about imperfect parenting, at this point I am rating myself deficient at best. The child I thought I knew, the one I gave birth to, my fourth and last, and loved right away (even though his head circumference was in the 90th percentile), is emerging as his own individual human being. I no longer can accurately predict how he will react. I nearly dismissed his feelings and that is a big deal. He is emerging as his own person, and he is our youngest, our last one to mold. While we are far from done, he is growing more independent as he should.

Even Number 4 is teaching us new things. The ZagZig continues, and we have to adapt. Pretty soon it will just be me, Mike and the dogs. We have three dogs and the oldest is nearly twelve. They are pretty easy to manage, seeking food, water, an open door or a scratch on the head. Every once in a while they alarm us with a little “present” that makes us zigzag on the carpet to step over the waste. Why do they do that? Well, on second thought, maybe I don’t know the dogs’ needs either.

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