The evolution of parenting

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because-I-said-so-tealI was 10 years old by the time my parents let me pierce my ears. It was the ’80s, and every other girl in the fifth grade already had oversized neon kitchen utensils dangling from her ears. I was seriously behind the times.

This was a problem I would have fixed at the nearest mall kiosk if it weren’t for my 6-foot-5, hulking, ridiculously sentimental father.

“Your Father in Heaven didn’t send you to me with holes in your ears,” he’d say, weeping, demanding I pull back my hair and show him my “perfect,” unpierced earlobes.

It was eerie foreshadowing for the waterworks that would come when I left for college and, later, got married.

“Your Father in Heaven didn’t send you to me with textbooks,” he’d say. “Your Father in Heaven didn’t send you to me with a marriage license.” The logic got faultier and faultier, but it was hard to even understand him through all of the snot and tears, so I just rolled my eyes and handed him a tissue.

To his credit, I was the oldest. We both had some growing up to do.

You can imagine my rage, then, when Child Number 5 got her ears pierced as a 4-year-old so she wouldn’t “look like a boy.” Never mind that all 4-year-olds with short hair look like boys, even the ones wearing pink headbands and tutus. No way were two small diamond studs going to stop old men at the grocery store from asking “How old is he?” but my parents didn’t care.

There was no more talk of ear holes and heaven, just a pragmatic approach to bolstering little Sarah’s self-esteem.

You can also imagine my rage, then, when my parents got my youngest sister, Jennie, Child Number 11, one of those fancy ear-piercing guns for her 1st birthday. “She can have her own little business as soon as she learns to walk!” my mom chirped. “Think of the fun at slumber parties!”

cubsI seethed as Baby Jennie was blowing out her birthday candle, and I threw an absolute fit a few years later when my parents bought Jennie her own apartment and that pet tiger I’ve been asking for all these years.

My guess is that after 36 years my parents are exhausted and can’t be bothered with all of those neurotic things like “rules” and “large-cat habitat guidelines.” That, and they’re sucking up to the one who’ll be the strongest and most able to care for them in their old age.

My mother-in-law has 10 children and loves to tell stories about how Child Number 7 was a wanderer. She’d get calls from the neighbors or, like, the police or whoever, telling her not to worry, they had Paul. And she wasn’t worried, because she’d sent THE DOG along to watch him. That’s how it goes in big family: As more and more kids come, childcare gets delegated first to older siblings, and eventually to the family pet.

[pullquote]With my fourth child, Talmage, I’ve recast my expectations from raising a “genius child prodigy” to the slightly less demanding “non-criminal human.” Some might say I’m being too ambitious, but that’s just the kind of wizened, dedicated mother I’ve become.[/pullquote]

I only have four kids, but I’ve seen the same patterns in my own parenting.

With my oldest child, I was determined to raise a reader! A prodigy! A child genius! So we plodded and stumbled through every one of his take-home phonics books, Josh miserable and me trying not to poke my eyes out as we learned that Pat has not only a bat and a fat rat, but also a mat. What did he do all day? Well, he sat. (And don’t get me started on Mike and his bike, or Ben and his pen.)

By the time my second child was learning to read, I had two younger babies and a less-structured approach to raising a genius child prodigy. I put in a LeapFrog “Letter Factory” DVD in the car as I ran errands, and after the 500th time we watched it, Tyler couldn’t help but parrot that the “a” says “ahhh.” It was literally impossible not to do so. (And, yes, I know what literally means.)

With my fourth child, Talmage, I’ve recast my expectations from raising a “genius child prodigy” to the slightly less demanding “non-criminal human.” Some might say I’m being too ambitious, but that’s just the kind of wizened, dedicated mother I’ve become.

Baby Tal just turned 18 months old. The way I see it, I’ve got a few years to find a really smart dog (or pet tiger) who can teach him to read, and maybe even watch over him while I’m out getting more holes in my ears.

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Elyssa Andrus has worked as a journalist for 14 years, most recently as the lifestyle editor at the Daily Herald newspaper in Provo. She is a contributor to the KSL-TV show "Studio 5" and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking" (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Natalie Hollingshead. She lives with her husband and four young children in Utah Valley.

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