Monday, December 1, 2008

Caught In Between

I was noticing recently, in the ‘Labels’ column in my sidebar, that I’ve got posts labeled for each of my kids. . . except one. I’ve briefly mentioned, from time to time, my second daughter, 2F; but I’ve never devoted a post to her and her life. Which is a shame, because, at least so far, her life has been the most substantial of any of our ‘older’ kids (if perhaps not quite so ‘interesting’ as the others. . .)

From the very beginning, 2F seemed to have come into the world with the mission of teaching Molly and me that:

(a) each of our kids was an individual in her own right,
(b) not all of our kids would be compliant ‘pleasers’ like 1F, and
(c) there were limits to how, uh, ‘forcefully’ we could coerce our kids into obedience.

For that, we have come to be grateful, but gratitude was not always our first instinct.

I suppose that it is inevitable that second children will be parented at least partly in comparison to their first-born siblings. And that tendency is perhaps intensified when the two children are of the same sex. As I’ve said, 1F was a very compliant child, the type who, when we said “Jump” would ask, “How high?” 2F was much more inclined to say, “Why should I?” And “Because I said so” was not always as convincing an answer as Molly and I might have thought it should be.

2F’s stubbornness, combined with Molly’s and mine, and our immaturity as young parents, made for some fairly monumental contests of will. With 1F, whenever she opposed her will to ours, we could fairly easily ‘turn up the heat’ to get her to comply. With 2F, it didn’t work that way, ever. I vividly recall one such contest, when 2F was two or three, that we ‘turned up the heat’ to a level I was already uncomfortable with, and the realization came to me that this toddler girl had us stymied – the next level of ‘heat’ would cross a line into the realms of ‘abuse’ that I was unwilling to cross, and might put us into a danger zone with the law, as well. It was a very disorienting experience, for sure.

And so it went for virtually all of 2F’s young childhood, until roughly 7th grade. Molly and I took to telling her that, if she continued on the path she was going, sooner or later, she wouldn’t be dealing with her parents, she’d be dealing with the police; and the police didn’t love her like we did. And the day came (inevitably?) that she found herself dealing with the police. It was a small enough matter, but it did confirm for her that, indeed, the police simply didn’t care what became of her. So I suppose Molly and I got some credibility out of that.

I don’t know if that experience had a major impact on her life or not, but it roughly coincided with a turning point in her life. Somewhere around 7th/8th grade, it was like she rolled over in bed, and said to herself, “the approach I’ve been taking isn’t working so well; maybe I’ll try it their way, and see if that goes any better.” And really, from that time on, she’s been our most solid, responsible kid.

2F was 16 when 3M started running away from home (and generally demonstrating to us that such willfulness as 2F had shown us in her childhood years had been, well, child’s play). And she was 17 when 1F took up with F-bomb. And for a few years after that, our family was just traumatized. And 2F, being between the two ‘troubled kids’, kinda got lost in the trauma.

She finished high school and went to college, and got a degree in Child Development (following in Molly’s footsteps). She has made us proud in so many ways – she recently returned from a year-and-a-half of mission work in Detroit, during which she lived in the middle of one of the poorest, nastiest ‘inner cities’ in America, and brought God’s love to the people there in a multitude of ways.

2F is an incredibly kind, sensitive young woman, and admirable in a multitude of ways. Just as people used to congratulate us for having raised 1F, nowadays they say similar things to us about 2F. And she finds that ‘role reversal’ the least bit ironic.

The thing is, her childhood has left its scars on her psyche. She was deeply wounded by the severity of our learning-on-the-job young parenting, and by the way she was constantly overshadowed by her ‘perfect’ older sister (and she knew all along, when Molly and I couldn’t bring ourselves to see, what a façade the ‘perfection’ was). Even as she has made us busting-our-buttons proud, she has struggled with her relationship with us. In the last few months, we’ve been able to start bringing some healing to our relationship. By God’s mercy.

I’ve said, from time to time, that life turns out to be more heart-breaking than we planned on. And there is something heart-breaking about our inability to appreciate 2F for who she was all along, to give her the love she needed on her own behalf, and where that’s brought us in the meantime, in terms of psychic wounds and painful relationships.

But God is merciful. He “restores to us the years the locust has eaten,” (ref. Joel 2:25) and “gives us a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). So, we can look forward to that. . .

11 comments:

lime said...

i needed very much to read this. i am in the midst of the teenage years with two girls, close in age, who have polar personalities. it is a challenge to know how to approach them each in a way they will respond to.

Cocotte said...

Ringing in to also say that I have a "middle" girl who is very different herself. Kudos to your daughter for turning her ways around and for doing God's work in Detroit. Yeah, that's a scary town.

for a different kind of girl said...

It's a testament to your parenting style and to your daughter's spirit that she's turned out the way she has. How amazing that she's taken a piece of that out to others and had an impact.

FTN said...

Great to see a 2F on the sidebar now! And it's good to hear that relationship is in the midst of mending. I'm amazed that we get *anything* right as young parents, sometimes! I wonder how people managed back when it was the norm to have kids at 16-17?

flutterby said...

God is merciful. It's the most staggering, awful thing sometimes to see your children's wounds; and then to realize that you were the cause.

Thankfully, love does cover a multitude of sins and, indeed, love is something your family seems to have in abundance.

Therese in Heaven said...

Sometimes it takes a long time for people to really settle into the person that they are. It's a blessing that 2F was able to "mellow" (for lack of a better word) relatively young before making a bunch of poor choices that could've hurt her the rest of her life.

Having the run-in with the police was probably a really, really good thing. Sometimes kids just need to be scared like that, you know? One of my brothers had a "situation" with the police one time, and believe me, one time was plenty. He walked the straight and narrow after that.

Desmond Jones said...

Lime - Glad to oblige. And yeah, when you have two kids, same sex, close in age, who are dramatically different personalities, it really taxes the ol' parental skill set. . .

Cocotte - Your kudos are appreciated. And listen - you have NO IDEA how scary Detroit really is. . .

faDKoG - More of a testament to 2F's spirit, than our parenting style, I think. But you are very gracious. . .

FTN - I think some of those 16-17-year-old parents of yore were more 'grown-up' than a lot of today's 32-year-olds. . .

Flutter - To be the cause of your kids' psychic wounds is pretty heart-breaking. And re the abundance of love, we're learning. . .

Therese - It reminds me of the old Dobson book, The Strong-Willed Child. 2F has a very strong will; it just needed to get properly channeled. . .

Phyllis Renée said...

Once again, Desmond, you have given me hope.

Desmond Jones said...

Phyllis - I'm gratified to know that. . .

And, there is ALWAYS hope. . .

Sailor said...

We too have our 2- also, of the same sex as our first, and this post really struck me in the similarities between your 1F/2F, and our 1M/2M.

Funny, took Rob (our2) a brush with the police as well, but although younger than your kids, he really did change in the last year.

Thank you Desmond, for confirming that hope is always there. I'd add, too, that there is a load of help available, all we have to do is trust in God.

Desmond Jones said...

Sailor - I've often laughed that 2F came into the world, took stock of the situation, and said, "Well, 1F has the 'good-kid' market cornered, so if I'm gonna make a name for myself, it'll just have to be some other way."

And of course, you're absolutely right - God Himself is the source and ground of whatever hope we have, as well as 'an ever-present help in time of need'. . .