So I am sure you have heard it, the tester pancake analogy for raising your first child. How your first born kid is like the first pancake on the griddle on a Saturday morning. When you make pancakes at home, that first one you cook up never comes out right. It is either too flat because the batter is too runny or it doesn’t cook all the way through because you let the burner get too hot and you have to flip it too early. It is almost always screwed up in some form or another and you call it the” tester pancake”. You are testing out different techniques and methods to get it “right”. The ingredients remain (mostly) the same, but the methods you use- how hot you set the burner, how much batter you use for each one, when you flip it, those techniques vary and help you figure out what produces the best results. This first tester pancake is all trial and error. And when it done, sometimes you just nibble on it, sometimes it is bad enough it needs to be thrown out, but rarely do you include that first tester pancake with the stack of those other beautiful, piping hot flapjacks that you will serve to everyone else.
Now don’t get me wrong, my first born is an amazing kid, his ingredients and recipe are awesome (by the grace of God!) but boy are we struggling to figure out what techniques and methods to use as we cook/raise him into adulthood. I mean, at what age do we let him have his own phone, how much technology should we let him have access to at all? What books and movies do we feel are appropriate for an 11 year old (regardless of what his friends see and do) And what about his friends? When is okay for him to go places alone with friends or to skip out on a family activity to do something with a friend instead?
The list goes on and on, and it doesn’t matter what methods you use with your first born, we are all just figuring it out as we go along. Seeing what we feel comfortable with, what our kid wants and how we reconcile our beliefs with the interest of kids today. We have nothing to compare it to. No real life experience to draw on. Books and theories on parenting are great, but just like recipes, it isn’t until we really get messy and try different things do we figure out what works best. (And of course, what works best one time you make pancakes might not work as well the next time-just like what works well for one kid might now work for another!)
I recently explained this theory to my 11-year-old. I told him that we were new to this parenting gig (despite the fact that we have 3 boys!) because we have never parented an 11-year-old before! I told him that a lot of parenting is just trial and error and adjusting things after we see what works and what doesn’t. His response? Well, that stinks. I have to be the test kid? You are just trying everything out on me and then when you figure out what works, kid #2 and #3 get the best stuff?
I assured him that this wasn’t true (well, only partially true). We might be on a steep learning curve with him, but his brothers aren’t going to be raised by Parents of the Year either. With kid #2 and #3, we have just become tired and complacent and they will get some of the worst of us too! We laughed as I told him that at least with him, we are trying! With him, we are adjusting the temperature of the pan, adding more milk to the pancake batter and trying to flip it over sooner. With his brothers, we are so tired from making so many damn pancakes we are happy with good enough! Raw in the middle sometimes tastes good when you have been up all night with a fussy baby and you wash it down with jug of caffeinated coffee!
I think that offered him a bit of relief that he wasn’t just getting the short end of the stick being the oldest, but we did agree that we would both go easier on each other as we are both just finding our way with this thing. The other agreement we made? When my husband and I don’t have a clue what we are doing as we parent a tween? We are going to ask my son’s opinion, too. He is old enough now that he can clearly explain his opinions and reasons for why he thinks he deserves a privilege. He can also give input as to appropriate consequences to his behavior when they are necessary. In fact, the more involved our tester kid is in these kinds of decisions, the more meaningful they will be for him. The more we treat him with respect and maturity, the more he will rise to the occasion. I think. But what do I know? I have never parented an almost 12 year old before. In fact, you shouldn’t listen to me. I can’t even make a decent pancake. But I do make pretty decent kids! =)