I’ve learned through the years that parenting is an ever-changing process.
Most of us start out thinking we can do it all, and soon find out that there is no way (no how, not ever) to do it all. So we make choices. We choose our issues and priorities and forge ahead.
A wise friend and mother of two teenagers explained this to me back when my kids were toddlers. She’d decided to make her issue R-rated movies. She and her husband decided to be more lenient about piercings, clothing, curfews and language, but they positively put their foot down when it came to any movie with a rating stronger than PG-13.
I listened to her stories of teen rebellion and rule-breaking. I empathized as she struggled with her daughter’s decision to pierce her nose. I understood her frustration the night she caught her son watching a forbidden R-rated movie and the proverbial “stuff” hit the fan. I vowed never to let my kids become teenagers.
Movies weren’t the issue at our house. Toy guns were. When our two oldest boys were very young, my husband and I decided we wouldn’t have toy guns in the house.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds.
First, we learned that an item doesn’t have to be a gun to have shooting power. Over the years we’ve been shot at with Legos, blocks, hockey sticks and the occasional index finger. Anything, it seems, can become a gun when your world is governed by imagination.
What to do? We retreated, restrategized and came up with a new parental rationale and psychological justification (fancy terms that basically meant we were lying to ourselves). The toys the boys were “shooting” with weren’t guns. They didn’t resemble guns. Our boys were playing, but at least not with something that resembled a real weapon. We felt refortified — somewhat.
But then, the boys visited the homes of friends who were allowed to play with guns. Another glitch. We decided to employ “When in Rome” logic. Toy guns existed in other peoples’ houses, but not ours.
We encountered another bump in the road when one of them discovered "Star Wars." What is a light saber? Our logic went as follows: Although it is a weapon, we decided that it’s a "make believe" one. It doesn’t shoot and isn’t a gun. Darth Vader’s spear of choice gained entry into our home.
At times, we were scrutinized for our no-guns stance. We were hunting family. The boys went to deer camp as soon as their shoulders were wide enough to keep the blaze orange vest from falling to the ground. My husband even let me know that he thought I was being too rigid.
So we discussed, reassessed and revised.
After the birth of our third son, the boys outnumbered us and that provided them with an advantage. One summer I bought them small water pistols to use at the lake. They say evolution is a gradual process.
Eventually, we slacked off even more and got them the large more powerful water blasters. That segued into Nerf guns. We justified that soft bullets couldn’t hurt anyone or break any windows. In essence time and the environment wore us down. We caved.
I’d like to say I’m the perfect parent, but I think I’ve thoroughly debunked that theory. I’d also like to claim that consistency is my forte, but I can’t. What I do believe is that families and viewpoints and priorities are ever-changing and it’s nearly impossible not to change along with that.
And that’s OK. No need to apologize for being human.
The guns issue at our house has dissipated as I’ve grown older (and more tired) and the boys have grown older (and more independent). They no longer play with toys so it’s no longer something we need to address. As a parent, though, I’m glad it was a point of discussion as they were growing up. The boys understand that guns are serious business.
The issue has given us opportunities for discussion — not to mention debate.
And that, right there, is a good thing.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.