December 14, 2010

Time will tell...

Knowing your children through and through comes with time, as in any relationship.  It’s not simply a direct result of time passing; many children get to adulthood without their parents truly understanding them.  Time relates to parenting in this way:  the more time spent interacting with them day to day, the better we will know them for who they are and be able to teach them and guide them.  This is one of the main reasons we homeschool.  Then as time goes on and years pass, that depth of experience with our children reveals patterns that display to the observant parent all the unique qualities, strengths, weaknesses, fears, hopes, needs, and desires of our children.
By way of example, allow me to share a little something about our son Scott.  As a toddler, he felt most comfortable and secure when he had his favorite blanket and stuffed lamb with him.  We didn’t allow him to bring them to stores and other public places, mainly because we knew how valuable they were to him and we didn’t want to risk losing them.  He understood this and would put them on his bed before we’d leave, knowing they’d be there when we got home.  Upon our return, off he’d go to reunite with them both, happy to have them by his side once again.
By the age of nine, Scott had long since left those two security items behind, but was still a boy who liked to have his favorite stuff on hand.  Behold what he loaded his pockets with on a daily basis back then:
These things not only made him “ready for anything”, which is the reason he’d give for carrying it all, but we understood he also just felt more comfortable having it all with him.  Looking back, we know that's all that the blanket and lamb were for too.  He just likes to have his favorite stuff handy.
Those loaded-pocket days are long gone now, and today that fourteen-year-old young man no longer carries his uncle’s old Star Wars figures with him.  These days you will find just two things on Scott: his knife and his iPod Touch.  They’re his two favorite items among all his possessions, and he keeps them with him at all times to be ready for anything.  But we know, and he knows, that he just feels more comfortable when he has them with him.  Someday it'll probably be his keys, his cell phone, and his wallet, just like his dad.
At the risk of oversimplifying parenthood, it’s a bit like a scientific experiment, only with lifelong and even eternal significance and consequences.  You need a lot of data, and it takes time to gather it.  And like an experiment, careful observation and analysis of the data is required.  We can only understand what the patterns in Scott’s life mean by spending time with him, talking with him, listening to him, and taking time to consider it all in a thoughtful way.  That is how we got to know our son.  It makes us better parents.
It’s delicate business to write about your teenage son in a way that won’t embarrass him, which I hope I haven’t, but because he’s our oldest living child he is the best example I can offer of how we learn what our children’s qualities, strengths, weaknesses, fears, hopes, needs, and desires are.  By virtue of his age, we know him best because we’ve had more time with him, though we’re learning about our other three in exactly the same way.  Through the passing of time children will easily reveal to you who they are, as long as that time is spent with them.

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