What I can’t tell my kids

I was chatting with an old friend from home. He mentioned
seeing some photos of my 7-year-old son on Facebook. “I can’t believe how much
Tristan looks like you,” he said. “Hope he doesn’t act like you, too.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m just saying let’s hope he doesn’t do some of the stupid
things you did as a teen.”
The whole conversation was very tongue in cheek. We were
laughing during most of it. But the problem is, I hear this more than I’d like.
Probably because I was kind of a shitty teen. I mean, people
often described me as a shitty kid, who did shitty things, so I suppose that
made me a troublemaker. Not that I got into trouble with the law, or anything.
It’s just that I grew up in a conservative Mormon community in north central
Utah, and I often liked to push the boundaries. And when I think about that, I
think about my kids. I have three of them, and wonder if they will pull the
same crap I did. Then I think of my grandmother, who raised me as a teen, sitting
in her white vinyl rocker, shoulders slumped, face resting in her right hand,
eyes closed. Everything about her seemed to say, “What am I going to do with
this kid?”
The funny thing about being a parent is that I feel I need
to make sure that my kids don’t make the same mistakes I made, and yet I feel
that I can’t tell them about the mistakes I made without losing credibility.
Or grossing them out.
For example: I have no intentions of telling my children
that I smoked pot at the tennis courts before high school most mornings. Then
cut morning Mormon seminary because I had the munchies and visited Burger
King.  Or that I lost my virginity to an
angry redhead at sixteen-years-old. I don’t plan to tell them about all the
crap (PEZ dispensers, magazines, and CD’s) I shoplifted from local stores in an
attempt to feel like a badass, or the times I was kicked out of class for being
loud and obnoxious. And I certainly will never tell them about getting
suspended from school for showing my ass to my floral design class.
None of these things are worthy of jail time. Most of them
were just adolescent, coming of age moments, where I learned some valuable lessons.
And luckily, unlike many of my high school friends, I never got a girl
pregnant, or got busted by the police, or anything like that. But I suppose the
really scary part is that I’m old enough now to see how a lot of these stupid
teen actions can impact adult life. The two friends of mine who had children in
high school never went to college. Two of the friends I smoked pot with at the tennis
courts died a few years after high school from drug addictions. And one of the
kids I used to shoplift with spent time in prison for setting fire to a jewelry
store after robbing it.
Sometimes I think about this stuff and realize how close I
came to having a very different life than the one I have. In so many ways I
want to tell my children this stuff. I want to let Tristan, Norah, and Aspen
know about my mistakes, some of the things I’ve seen, so that they will think
twice.
But I’m the dad, and I doubt that they will get it. They
will see me as old fashioned, or over zealous, like I often saw my grandmother.
Or perhaps they will see it as a license to do some of those stupid things. I
remember when I discovered that my aunt got pregnant in high school. I must
have been 15. I looked at her life, the fact that she had a house and was still
married to her high school sweetheart, and thought, “things worked out for
her.” It almost made me feel more comfortable having sex because I knew that
whatever happened, I’d be fine. Now I look at my aunt and realize that she was
wrangled into marrying my uncle because of the pregnancy. I know about how hard
they struggled being teens with a baby, and how it kept them from finishing
high school.
I suppose what I’m trying to say here is this. My kids are
young now. They listen to me. But I know that there will be a time when they
won’t. When they will see me as this old, out dated dude. I am old enough to
know this. I am also old enough to know that I don’t want my kids to make the
same mistakes I made, and yet I’m not sure how exactly to keep them from making
those mistakes without telling them the details. But I don’t want to tell them
because I don’t want them to see me differently. But perhaps that’s good.
Perhaps that’s what I should be doing. Letting them see who I was, and how I
got to where I am.
I don’t know. Now I’m rambling.
Raising good kids, it’s complicated. It’s frustrating to be
able to know what can go wrong because you’ve seen it, and yet, not know just
how to give a proper warning. Ultimately, though, I need to realize that my
kids are not me. They are going to make their own mistakes, and they will have
their own temptations, and I’ve got to, somehow, learn to live with that. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a
charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky
little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father
left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and
husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good
Morning America
, The New York Times,
The
Washington Post
, The
Huffington Post
, Scary
Mommy
, The Good
Men Project
, Fast
Company
, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and
Twitter.  

 

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Showing 2 comments
  • Leslie Phelps

    Go with your instincts… 🙂

    I have fallen to the Mother's Curse. The day they tell you that they hope that you have kid's just like yourself someday. My 15 yo son is JUST. LIKE. ME. I wear my gray hear as a badge of honor (I don't hear my horses complaining). However, I had to let go of letting my child think that I was a perfect child & parent. I allowed him just a glimpse of what my teen years were about. I didn't come completely clean with him, but I did make him aware that I'm human. I've made mistakes, but I've bounced back from them.

    We now have a fairly open communication dialog. If he asks me, I'm honest, but I don't offer most of the details.

    Kids do not come with manuals. The best advice you can give yourself is to "Go with your gut."

    Good luck!

  • giulia reptyle

    they will know even if you don't tell them, as you're writing it on your blog that everyone can read!