Parenting styles differ with age

So, I’ve been at this parenting thing about 30 years. You’d think I’d have it down by now. That’s the same number of years I’ve been adjusting the combine. And I’m pretty good at that: green stems, small cobs, whatever.

But parenting? That’s another story. Remember the old saying, “Raising kids will humble you quicker than the stink goes off a pig.” Well, OK, that’s not really an old saying. We need some new sayings anyway. That one might need a little work.

It’s been a while since I published my book of parenting advice. “Bribes and Threats, Surviving Parenthood” was a brutally honest look at getting your kids to do what you want them to do. Like behave for once. Or quit hitting their brother with a stick. “Bribes and Threats” didn’t get a lot of good reviews by child development experts. It did rank briefly in Amazon’s top fifty of “Parenting guides by slightly overweight Midwestern guys.”

When we began parenting, there was a lot of confusion. Back then, new parents all had a copy of “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care.” It was a bestseller and changed the way children were raised. Apparently parents had been messing up the previous couple of million years so it was good to get that fixed.

The problem came for Star Trek fans like me. It was easy to get our Dr. Spocks mixed up. I’m still not sure they weren’t the same guy. We kept our kid’s ears taped up trying to get them to a Vulcan-like pointy state. One day I suggested we trim them just a bit with a nail clipper, but my wife nixed that idea.

That was our first kid, the Experimental Child. She was the one we practiced on. She turned out quite normal considering we over-nurtured, over-protected, and over-analyzed her. Experimental Child only tasted whole, sustainable, nutritionally-balanced baby foods. I remember slipping her an M and M one day in her high chair. Her eyes got wide and she looked at me like, “OK, where did that amazing food of the gods come from, and why have you been holding out on me?”

We relaxed quite a bit by kid number three, Tail End Kid. We went from, “Let me pull you around in this wagon with sides and cushioned back so as to keep you from all harm,” to “Yeah, you can put the ladder up on the machine shed so you can run around on the roof. You wanna take some chips with you?”

Other things change when you have kids decades apart as we, ahem, planned out. I always read to the kids before bed. I read whole volumes to Experimental Child. By Tail End Kid, I could barely keep my eyes open till Pooh ate Eeyore’s birthday honey. Tail End Kid would poke me, “Daddy, Daddy, wake up.” Rousted, I might stay awake till Piglet fell on Eeyore’s balloon. Then, “Daddy, Daddy, WAKE up.” Poor kid, he still has no idea how that story ends.

I did find there is one absolute line dividing parents. On that line is the trampoline. We got one years ago for a few hundred dollars. It was the best investment of kid-play-per-dollar-spent we ever made. Even if you include a couple visits to the clinic with x-rays. Other parents upon hearing we owned a trampoline looked at us like we’d bought our kids a set of chain saws.

After the success of “Bribes and Threats,” I am working on a sequel. This volume will guide parents through the adolescent years. For a title, I am choosing between “Raising Teenagers, Ha, Good Luck” and “Raising Teenagers, Your Parents Finally Get Their Revenge.” The premise is that you might as well put your head down and plow through, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Or a big, bleepin’ train.

One day you’re living with this cuddly kid who likes nothing more than hanging out with you. The next day, he or she (or it) has morphed into a sullen, distant creature. I looked up zombie, and found they “bear a semblance to the living, but are mute and will-less.” Sounds like a teenager to me! The worst part of it is they no longer think you’re even vaguely funny. I like to think of myself as vaguely funny, so this comes as a blow.

Maybe it’s not entirely their fault. Parenting a teen doesn’t always lead to rational behavior. There are days when I scream at our teen, “GET OFF THAT X-BOX AND GET YOUR HOMEWORK DONE OR ELSE!” And Pam will come home and purr, “How’s my handsome young man today?” Then an hour later, Pam is shrieking, “GET YOUR ROOM PICKED UP OR I’LL THROW ALL YOUR CLOTHES OUT IN THE YARD!” And I’ll come into the house, and say, “Hey, Bud, wanna toss the football around?”

I remember when we first had Experimental Child, a friend asked how kids cash flowed. Hmm, let’s see. According to the USDA report “Expenditures on Children by Families,” the average kid from conception to college will cost $313,360. In return, you get some dishwashing, snow shoveling, and help around the farm. Depending on how long a sidewalk you have, that comes to about $300 an hour. You aren’t getting any bargains.

No bargain, but I guess you do get someone who’s easy to love. If you believe God put us here to love, this one’s sort of a freebie. All the other people in your life will take some effort to love at times. But there’s something in that pukey baby spitting up on your shoulder and even that obstinate teen rolling their eyes, something that you love anyway. Maybe they’re not such a bad deal.

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