Do we ever really know our kids?

untitledBy Lisa Sugarman

I know this might sound like a strange question but, as parents, do you think we ever truly know our kids? Like really know who they are, as people. I know, it’s an inane-sounding question, but just humor me.

I’m asking because, even though I’ve been at this for a while—with a freshman and a senior in high school—I’m still honestly not sure if I’ve ever met the real them—at least not the versions of them that the rest of the world gets to see most of the time. And I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit jealous. I also have a hunch you might be feeling the same way, too.

I mean, we all get glimpses of the amazing people our kids are, but for parents it’s usually mixed with a disproportionate amount of other gunk that we have to pick through to expose the pearl. Because let’s face it, the kid we see in the privacy of our own home is decidedly different from the one the rest of the world sees. Even though, to a point, that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

At home, we get the Real McCoy. The gloves are off, peoples’ hair is down (and usually a white-hot mess), and everything hangs out. And the ironic thing is, the rest of the world probably wouldn’t believe us if we told them about even half of the crap our kids pull. They wouldn’t believe the short tempers and the mood swings and the meltdowns. And that’s because the rest of the world almost always gets the polite, controlled, respectful version of our kids. The rest is reserved for us. And while I’m well aware that that eventually does change, it sure would be nice if the change happened when they were still kids.

See, I’m at the point now, a point many of us are at, where my kids are spending way more of their time without me than with me. Once you give a kid a set of car keys, you might as well kiss them goodbye and wish them well, because a car is like the gateway drug to independence—one taste and they’re addicted.

It’s at that point that you just cross your fingers and pray that they’re out there representing themselves with some grace and maybe a little bit of charm. Or, at the very least, that they’re not jamming their finger up their nose in public places.

You know, we invest so much of our time and effort, especially when our kids are young, in teaching them the Basic Rules of Human Engagement so that when they finally do get out on their own they don’t embarrass themselves. Or, more importantly, us.

I’m always reminding our girls—probably more than they appreciate—that whenever they leave the house, they’re out there in the world as official representatives of The Sugarman Family. Meaning, that if they make bad choices or behave like idiots, it’s ultimately going to reflect badly on all of us.

See, the thing is, when our kids finally crawl out from underneath us and start engaging with the world on their own, most of us, at least for a period of time, just hold our breath. We wonder if they’re giving thank-you waves when cars let them cross the street; if they’re holding the door for people; if they’re saying Please and Thank you; if they’re looking people in the eye. There’s a lot to consider when we let them loose on the world.

We spend those first handful of years, when they’re stapled to our hip, drumming every people skill we can think of into their little brains and then, almost overnight, we have to send them out solo. And considering what most of us see at home when our kids are testing our limits, it’s intimidating as hell thinking about releasing them to the general population. But the funny thing is, they all eventually pull it together. We did, right?

So I guess that just proves that home is the testing ground—the place where they can shoot off live rounds in every direction but no one gets mortally wounded because most parents are genetically bulletproof. And what matters most is that we take the hits now, while they’re still doing their dress rehearsal. Because I’ve been assured by a reliable source—my mother—that eventually, the two polar-opposite personalities inside every kid will mesh into one, beautiful person. So that’s what I’m holding on to.

In the meantime, though, I’m thinking of installing Nanny Cams everywhere. You know, in their bedrooms, at school, in the car. Wherever I can, within reason. But it won’t be forever; just long enough to let me see the real them in action.

What? Too much?

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.

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