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Preschool or Teenager? Is there a better time to be a stay-at-home parent?

I remember a friend of mine telling me (now this was before I had children) that her cousin felt that many parents have it wrong by staying at home with their children in the early years of development. She felt that it’s most important to stay at home when they are teenagers.  When I first heard this, I vehemently disagreed.  I felt that the first 5 years of their life are the most important for development, if a parent can stay home and be there for their young children the knowledge that they have been there during this most important time, would secure a stronger relationship with their children and therefore making parenting easier when they are teenagers.  

Fast forward to now, I have a 17 year old and a 19 year old and I did stay at home with my kids until my eldest was 5. As a family we have been blessed that my husband is mostly home with the kids because of his flexible work schedule and most my schedule has become very flexible as well.  And I have to admit that my friend’s cousin was right!

Now we all know parenting is the most difficult, yet most rewarding job in the world and there is no hand book, we carve out our style based on what our parents did or did not do when they parented us.  But parenting teenagers, can be like the terrible twos, however instead of a year of frustration, it’s years of challenge.  Here’s why I now agree with my friend’s cousin:

While being there for my children when they were young, they barely remember my presence, don’t get me wrong, I still feel there was value for them, because they don’t know any different and we have some wonderful memories (and as not so pleasant memories) of those times.  In my case, I was not elated as a stay-at-home mother and perhaps my view is skewed because of that.  I have never been much of the domestic type, that being said I don’t regret staying home with them when they were young.  I also feel if you have the right supports in place your children develop just as well if no parent is home with them once maternity leave is done.  You may have grandparents or a great daycare or in my case I had friends and a fantastic babysitter and my children felt safe, secure and developed fine.

What’s most important is the level of involvement you have in your children’s lives, not how much time you are around them, but how engaged you are when you are around.  With teenagers though, I think that both are critical.  This is a crucial stage of development before they hit adulthood and because I remember too clearly what being a teenager was like, I have made a conscious decision to be very present in their lives.  As I mentioned before, my husband has a very flexible schedule so he has been home most of the time with the kids for the majority of their lives since I went back to work 14 years ago.  I see how much more they need us now than they did as young children.  I also see how our own bad behavior manifests in their behavior, as well as our good behavior.

There are two running ideas here, be a better model first of all and secondly be a more present parent as your children are growing and specifically in the teenage years.  I understand that not everyone has the circumstances that my family has.  Growing up, I didn’t have anyone home with me.  As a matter of fact I was a latch-key kid and after grade three, I was home alone until 6 pm when my father got home.  My mother was working all the time and when she was home, she was always tired and had inconsistent involvement.  On top of that, my parents bickered all the time and we lived in a controlled and abusive home, so trust me when I say I know what dysfunction looks like.

My point of view is not rose coloured; it comes from my own experience as a child and teenager.  I see myself model behavior that I am not proud of. It’s an unconscious response because it’s reactive and built on what was modeled for me as a child.  My husband and I bicker all the time, it’s how I grew up and I’m not saying that I can’t change because I know I can, and I am consciously trying because I see my children bicker with one another all the time.  I hear myself and my husband on many occasions saying to our children “do as I say, not as I do” but let’s be really honest, that’s a crap excuse that allows you to hold your children to a higher standard than you hold yourself.

 If we want our children to act a certain way, we have to model that behavior but we all have to engage in meaningful relationships with them.  We have to be more present when they are teenagers because this is when they are trying to really discover their way in the world as budding adults. If you can, be there when they get home, be there before they go to school, talk with them, not at them, you have to have a relationship with them.

I’m not the best parent, I know there are many things that I can do better, but the one thing I am proud of is that I listen to my children, when they call me out on my hypocrisy I take note because that is the thing I detested the most as a teenager and still detest as an adult.  I’m okay to apologize to them, I’m not too proud to admit I make mistakes.  The other thing I am most proud of is my ability to engage with them, I mean being so present with them and hanging out with them is just so fulfilling.  One day they won’t be there every moment of every day, they will have their own lives and families and the parenting legacy I want to leave for them is that I am human and I did the best I could!

Written by: Nina Ganguli

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