A few weeks ago I attended my youngest child’s college graduation from SIUe in Edwardsville, IL. I need to take a moment to be a proud papa as she did graduate Suma Cum Laude, but that is not why I choose this as an introduction to this week’s News & Notes, it is to share the joys of parenthood, even in the face of times which are not so joyful. Over the years I have shared some of the trials and tribulations of my daughter, experiences that I am confident every parent must endure. These “issues” have included the “losing” of a brand new i-Phone, to the infamous 5-day suspension from high school her senior year. The space of this column does not permit me to get into the “drama” surrounding prom, homecoming, and my personal favorite the summer following high school graduation; “this is my last summer of my youth, you can’t possibly expect me to work”. Regardless of the speed bumps (at the time they seemed more like landmines), somehow, someway, she matured and grew up. To be honest I was more than just a little nervous when she went away to college four years ago. In fact, her mother and I gave her a semester to prove herself. Something clicked that first year, for the only real issue we dealt with was coming to the aid of a professor who had the audacity to award my daughter her first ‘B’, blemishing her perfect 4.0 GPA in the second semester of her freshman year. Yes, the last sentence was not a misprint, I came to the aide of the professor, for my daughter not only learned the skill of self-advocacy, but was demonstrating it so well I felt sorry for the teacher on the receiving end of a conversation in which my young scholar was using the evidence from the teacher-created rubric to make her case, but to no avail.
While I relished the graduation ceremony, it was anything but a cake-walk through middle school and high school. I recall all too well the meeting with her eighth grade algebra teacher when we received word that she had failed the first quarter. Not to mention the early morning rides to get her to the ever dreaded Saturday School, or the pick-ups after detention. But perhaps my most memorable experience was when she was suspended from high school. As parents we met with the administrator, in this case her dean, who just happened to be in the graduate class I was teaching at the time.
To that end, children do not come equipped with directions, or a warranty, and at times cause your hair to lose color (my hair used to be golden brown). But at the end of the day they need the support and the love of their parents. Through the trying times they will learn, they will grow, and most importantly the support must include holding them accountable for bad decisions. Perhaps the greatest lesson my daughter learned was from her high school suspension. I really didn’t think much of it until one of her high school teachers provided us with an essay she had written a week before graduation. In essence, she reflected on how a very bad choice she made at a football game robbed her of her senior year. She was unable to attend any homecoming activities, was not photographed with the homecoming court, to which she had been elected by her classmates, and she lost one third of her final season of softball, among other things. But, the result of this experience impacts her decision making to this day.
To all parents and no parent is exempt from the headaches regarding child rearing, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and no, it is not an on-coming train. Our children do grow up and will make their way in the world. Employ “unconditional love” and support them in their interests, even if those interests are not in-line with yours. Lastly, that support includes allowing them to experience life and the consequences for their actions. Once they experience the consequences, lend them a hand to pick themselves up, dust off the dirt and learn from those experiences.