Posts Tagged parenthood
My wife and I left our first child at college this weekend. We’re not alone – thousands of parents will do the same thing in the coming months, and millions more have done it before us – but it feels like we’re alone. It especially felt like that on the eight-hour drive back.
Eighteen and a half years ago, we brought a newborn home from the hospital. We felt alone then too. Though we had months to prepare, it was like we were called to the stage to deliver an important speech, and we had nothing to say. Diapers, bottles, teething – sometimes my wife and I would look at each other with helpless stares, hoping the other had a magic solution. It was too chaotic to ponder the future back then. Our biggest goal was a good night’s sleep.
As the days and years passed, we enjoyed guiding this little brown-haired boy toward his destiny – whatever that was. We were still young and trying to find our own destinies, but we had so much hope for his. Like all parents, we wanted to open up his world, and to help him find and develop his strengths. We weren’t trained for this stage any better than we were trained for the sleepless nights, but we learned on the job and made many mistakes along the way.
There were days when our home was closer to a bad MTV reality show than The Waltons or some other idyllic family-based drama, but those days were few and far between. We emphasized love and appreciation for each other, and you can kill a lot of demons that way. We just had to remember love and appreciation when frustration and anger became overwhelming. Again, most days, we were successful. Even if we lost a day, we were usually able to recover the next.
As he found his path, we slowly circled behind him and started pushing more than pulling him along that path. Eventually, pushing turned into gentle prodding, and before long, we hardly needed to do that any more. He knew where he was going and had a general idea of how to get there. That’s when bittersweet reality set in – we had worked ourselves out of our most cherished and rewarding job. I wasn’t ready to turn in my keys on that job, but I had no choice. It was time to go.
As Laramie faded in my rearview mirror, I thought about that trip home with a newborn back in 1998. None of us slept a wink that night, and we felt completely incompetent as parents. I wasn’t sure if I could do 18 days back then, let alone 18 years. We’ve come a long way since then, but now, just as I start to feel like I have a pretty good grip on parenthood, I must learn something new.
I have to learn to parent at a distance and only when needed. I have to learn to focus on the tremendous opportunities and bright future that I believe lies ahead for him, rather than the loneliness of the empty spot at the dinner table. I have to learn to stifle my urge to pry and prod, and instead rely on my faith that God is watching over him and that he’s prepared for life’s challenges.
None of this feels natural now, just like it didn’t feel natural to hold a screaming newborn 18 years ago, but I learned how to adapt then, and I’ll do the same now.
Back when I was a kid in the 70s, parents who wanted to share their child’s success clipped something from the local paper and stuck it on the fridge or they took a picture and put it in a scrapbook. The well-prepared mother might keep pictures and mementos in her purse and produce them when she cornered a seemingly interested party. Social media changed all of that.
Now, we have digital images and videos, and access to media that we can quickly share on Facebook or Twitter, and I think it’s great. Success is my favorite thing to find on social media. It’s especially fulfilling to see young people experience and build on success.
Success is uplifting and should be celebrated, but can sharing success on social media go too far? I found myself contemplating that recently when a stranger accused me of just such an extreme.
He wrote in response to my latest blog post about overcoming self-doubt. The setting for that post was my son’s challenging wrestling season and sudden success in the state tournament, during which my son beat his son. In less than polite words, he asked that I remain humble and suggested that I should share about failures too, which were a big part of the post. Failure, it seemed, was his way humbling me.
Initially, I was angry, but I believe that God puts certain people in our lives to challenge us and our thinking, so I thought about his concern. To do that, I put myself in his shoes. How would I feel about him sharing his son’s success, which included two victories over my son? Unless he was critical or demeaning toward my son, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. I would be happy that his son was successful.
The world needs more successful people and more celebrations of success, because success motivates success. Success is almost always the product of hard work and sacrifice, and seeing success should create hope and motivate work and sacrifice, not inspire resentment and jealousy.
Unfortunately, resentment and jealousy too often suppress success sharing, because we allow it to silence us. I recently had a conversation with a mother who was hesitant to share an honor her daughter received, because she didn’t want to be perceived as boastful. It’s a concern that most of us have, but why should we hide success, especially on social media, which is too often dominated by the negative?
Social media gives us a unique platform to share success – unique, because it’s passive. Unlike active methods, like calling or e-mailing, sharing success online gives your audience an option to opt out. Kind of like putting that fridge covered in clippings in the middle of town square, people can choose to look at it or walk past it.
Whether active or passive, sharing success is only bragging when your intent is to make others feel inferior. You can avoid that with a couple of easy techniques:
- Don’t use subjective language, like “My daughter is the smartest kid in her class,” or “it was the best performance of the night.” When you interject your opinion, no matter how valid you think that opinion might be, you can be perceived as boastful. It’s much more fulfilling to leave room for others to form their own opinions, and they will appreciate that opportunity.
- Acknowledge your blessings. Most success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Give credit to everyone involved, especially the supporters and believers, e.g. “He’s fortunate to be on a great team with great coaches and great parents.”
Genuine humility and appreciation are easy to recognize and hard to criticize, but as seen with my negative poster, they don’t always overcome the very powerful emotion of jealousy. Fortunately, I believe that only a very small segment of the population is affected this way, and I’m certain that it’s not significant enough that it should influence us to hide success.
Parents, post away!
I used to dream of the day when I’d no longer need to drive my kids around. Now that it’s almost here, I’ve begun to think about what I am losing.
I’m not only losing early-morning wake-ups and late-night pick-ups; I’m also losing precious time with my children. While I maybe didn’t enjoy driving to and from practices, games and sleep-overs, I was with my children, and I had their attention. We were each other’s captive audience for the few minutes we spent on the road together. It’s harder to get those moments now.
My daughter, my youngest, is now learning to drive. Like her older brother, she will soon have a school permit that will allow her to drive to and from school events. No longer will I be with her when she leaves the house for an early-morning practice or waiting for her when the bus drops her off after an evening event. I have to admit, having my son drive himself for the past two years has been tremendously convenient, and that convenience probably blinded me to what I was missing – time to catch up with my kids, to learn about their activities and interests, to meet their friends.
I made the mistake that many people make – I wished away part of the life I was given.
Wishing away life’s activities is mining for fool’s gold. Unfortunately, by the time we realize this, it’s too late. We might get what we were looking for, but we might wish that we had back what it cost us.
Maybe we’re convinced that we can start enjoying life once the mortgage is paid off and the kids are through college, not realizing that we’ll never get back the time we spent wishing and waiting for those things to happen. Maybe we can’t wait until we can quit our jobs and do something we really like, not realizing that the job we don’t like is setting us up for an opportunity we haven’t even imagined yet. Maybe we’re counting days until our child’s sports season is over, not appreciating all that she is learning from participating.
When my kids were young, I remember thinking that it would be so great to have the entire house to myself for even just a little bit of time. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything or anyone except myself. Now, I often find myself alone in my house, wishing that I was still central to my kids’ lives.
Likewise, I rushed through college, thinking that something better was on the other side. Because I was tired of living on little money, I focused on graduating as quickly as I could – cramming as many credit hours as possible into each semester. When I wasn’t in class, I was working so I could afford all of those credit hours. I was only on campus to attend class, never getting involved in extra-curricular activities that can enrich the college experience.
I achieved my goal of graduating from college in four years, without debt and with a teaching job already lined up, but a year later, I was wishing that I was back in college – that I had spread out my experience and took advantage of unique collegiate opportunities. Like driving my kids around, I was too focused on the destination to enjoy the journey.
Life is like that. As the destination begins to fill our windshield, we also start to see more clearly through the rearview mirror. The sooner we can figure this out, the happier we will be.