A Parenting Invitation

Fellow parent,

Let’s not compete for martyrdom by comparing the hours of sleep we’ve missed.

Instead, let’s lift each other up with loving commiseration over the hard work we each do.

Let’s not insinuate that some parents are lucky to have children who sleep well, eat well, behave…

Instead, let’s acknowledge that it is hard work and intention, not luck, that bring success.

Let’s not be bothered by people who dismiss our concerns as insignificant and tell us that parenting only gets harder.

We need to support each other through the tough times right now.  Let’s remind each other that the rewards of childrearing make the drudgery worthwhile.

Let’s withhold judgment of each other’s parenting and avoid giving advice on how to do it better.

Instead, let’s respect that we’re each doing the best that we can and accept that our parenting styles differ.

Let’s not boast about our children under the guise of ‘humble-bragging.’  The insinuation of superiority is obvious and insulting.

Instead, let’s acknowledge the greatness in every child and celebrate their imperfections.

Let’s not talk about how our children make us crazy.

Instead, let’s tell each other how we’ve cried from disappointment in our own parenting behavior, and together, let’s figure out a way to do it better.

Let’s not ever pretend that we’ve got it all together.

Let’s be honest and expose our vulnerability so that we might learn to accept ourselves, and each other, more authentically.

Let’s not play that broken record called “I have no time to myself”.

Let’s choose to sing about how we had the courage to say ‘no’ to the ones we care for, in order to care for ourselves.

Let’s not line our parenting path with comparison and criticism.  It’s not a competition.

Let’s just be parents, traveling side by side, cheering each other on.

How To Raise Great Kids

raising-kidsA friend with young boys said to husband and me, “All I know is that I’m taking notes because y’all have great kids.”

If she only knew.

If my friend had any idea of the battles, tears, and transgressions that have been suffered on the front line of my family, she might not be as complimentary.  Or would she?  She, too, is fighting the good fight, showing up every day as a parent, armed with love, lists, laughter – whatever she has in her arsenal of tools.  She knows that parenting isn’t glamorous and that kids are far from the polished specimens we present to the world.

There are too many factors involved in parenting, too many individual histories and personalities, to define a ‘right way.’  But I want to offer my friend a guidepost for the inevitable times when she feels lost and discouraged.  For the times when she forgets that she has done, and is doing, great things.

Allow me to present my parenting manifesto. It was written after offering a desperate prayer:  “Dear God, help me not to mess this up.”  It reflects on basics – a long list of parenting wishes and intentions whittled down to the few points that I consider non-negotiable.

DO NO HARM:

May I have the consciousness to build up rather than break down; to guide and discipline rather than command and punish.

HONOR INDIVIDUALITY:

May I parent each child in a way that honors their uniqueness and makes the most of their potential. 

May I never make assumptions or goals for anyone other than myself.

PROMOTE SELF-SUFFICIENCY:

May I abstain from doing things for children that they can do for themselves.

May I raise confident, responsible beings who struggle less in the world because I had the foresight and strength to let them fail.

CARE FOR SELF:

May I remember to spend resources on myself so that I may not resent those I care for.

May I remember to sleep, take a time-out, deposit in my own emotional bank account, and smile at myself every day, that I might be a better parent.

BE HONEST:

May I refrain from the convenience of untruths to support my agenda.

May I fearlessly share enough of my life experience to illustrate the human condition so that my children will walk into the world with eyes open and minds prepared.

BE RESPECTFUL:

May I refrain from condescending to my precious little ones. 

May I show them the respect that they deserve, even when they are disrespecting me.

RETURN TO LOVE:

May I find compassion in the face of negativity.

May I replace frustration and anger with love.

May I always remember my one true organic intention: to love my children unconditionally, and never miss an opportunity to demonstrate it.

Children are clean slates when we receive them at birth.  They need us to bring our best game to the job of parenting. A parent’s only hope of inscribing a legacy without regret is to consciously and sincerely step into the challenge of parenting with open eyes, a generous heart and a flexible mind.  I wish all fellow parents clarity amidst the chaos, and a love that endures forever.

Deb

The New You

brand-new-you1

image credit purefunfit.com

Dearest Daughter,

I love that you so clearly wrote your feelings in response to my spontaneous comment about not liking the New You.  I am equally unhappy that your email was written at 1:00 a.m.!  Why? Because that is very late and I worry, as mothers do.

I try hard not to share my worries because I want to project confidence for you.  Deep down, I believe that you’ll be fine, even when you make poor choices or even good choices that I don’t like.  I believe in fate and God and the goodness of Life.  But my human-ness and my mom-ness continue to plague me with what-if scenarios.

When you were a clumsy toddler, I watched with fear as you climbed a playground structure.  My hands were never far from your body, waiting – expecting – to have to catch you.  My mothering instinct is to protect.  Over the years, I’ve learned to subdue the urge to rescue you, even when you begged me.  Case in point: making you call the orthodontist to let him know that, again, you need to replace your retainer.  And that you will be paying for it.

While punishing me as a child, my mother told me, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”  I didn’t believe her.  I do now.  It hurts me to see you struggle, even when I know it will result in your favor.

As the first-born you bear the task of paving roads.  All along the way, my parental inexperience has been your guide.  You are my first child to leave the nest and I am learning how to reconcile my heartbreak with my pride.  Both emotions are strong and are battling for victory.

Last night, you captured a heartfelt but selfish comment from me.  When I said that I don’t like the new you, I misspoke.  I love all versions of you.  What I dislike is the feeling that my world is changing so drastically and so quickly.  You are living life your way, not my way, as it should be.  I envision myself grasping for the rope that tethers your boat to the dock.  But your ship is ready to sail.

You are branching out toward unfamiliar experiences, taking advantage of the bounty of youth, and it’s difficult for me to watch.  But my skepticism is not an indication of the rightness or wrongness of your choices.  As you pointed out in defense, you are consciously taking risks and risks are essential to growth.

Principessa, I trust in your core values.  I believe your intentions are pure.  You don’t disappoint me.  And I could never think less of you.

Thank you for pointing out that it’s also hard for you to see yourself changing.  We know that change is essential and beneficial but it’s often scary.  Now that we’ve exposed our mutual fear and shined a light on it, it looks less daunting.  Let’s agree that we won’t let fear get the best of us.

You worry that you’ll become someone you don’t recognize.  It’s true that you’ll stray from the person you’ve been, but you can’t lose yourself.  There is a part in each of us that is connected to our source. It cannot be severed. You are, and always will be, uniquely you by divine design.

If you forget who you are, how special and precious, just ask me.  I will pour my love into your heart and remind you of your value. As always, I will be here, with arms outstretched, ready to catch you if you fall.

Loving you more than you can imagine,

Mom

dr seuss you

The Secret to Life

savor-the-flavorA well-intentioned adult gave our soon-to-be high school graduate this advice: “Savor everything right now. This is the best time of your life!”

This one thought stimulated a frenzy of conversation about what it means to savor. Afraid that she would not grasp the concept and would miss an important passage into young adulthood, Principessa desperately tried to hold on to every Senior experience. One would have thought that she was living the last few breaths of her life the way she attacked each day.

We began to unwind her desperation with the help of our old friend Merriam-Webster who told us to
 savor the best in life: give oneself to the enjoyment of:

As Principessa headed off for her first parentless weekend away with friends, I had to check my emotions in the driveway and remind myself that perhaps I, too, needed to work more on savoring and less on sadness as I prepared to send her off to college.

Of many neighborhood parties that we’ve hosted, this weekend would mark the first at which Principessa wouldn’t be present. Her absence was palpable, to me at least. It’s a strange feeling to be without our family cheerleader.

I was tempted to lament the impermanence of these gatherings, but as I looked around at a field of families laughing and playing, and felt the palpable energy of their joy, I couldn’t deny the completeness of the moment. Life, and happiness, was happening, as it does.

I immersed myself so deeply into the experience, in fact, that I found myself wearing a silly grin from ear to ear. The pitch of his voice. The animation in her face. The sight of frolicking. The sound of laughter. I leaned in and felt it all while simultaneously stepping back to appreciate it.

In this savoring state, I burst forth with a toast of gratitude, “For this!” I said. It was a feeling of love that couldn’t be held be back. I’m fairly certain that at least a couple neighbors wondered how much alcohol I had consumed. But truthfully, I hadn’t had a drop. I was drunk on the moment. I had experienced savoring.

When Principessa returned home, she had a similar tale to share about her carefree time with friends. “I didn’t want the weekend to end because it was SO much fun. But I wasn’t sad either because I enjoyed each moment. I just went with it.”

Principessa discovered, as I did, that savoring is exactly the opposite of holding on. Trying to grasp experiences and freeze time is an exercise in futility that leads to regret. In contrast, being present for this moment, and this moment, and this one…never holding on for longer than it lasts, is the magic formula for savoring.

Be present. Feel. Appreciate. Let go. And life will be savored.

The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time.” James Taylor

Getting Noticed

trophyIt’s awards season at school and not every child is receiving an award.  This is great news for families with high achievers but not so great for the remainder.  Or is it?

Sure, it’s fun to be on top, to be part of that crowd, to be selected.  We want to be recognized and appreciated, deserving or not.  When we’re overlooked, it can be deflating, as if our ‘doing’ wasn’t enough.  The problem is that the not doing enough feels more like not being enough, which is a slippery slope to travel.

Winning can be treacherous.  It’s addictive, like caffeine.  If we become praise-dependent, we are in danger when the winning ends, (as it eventually will) because the high goes with it and takes a chunk of self-image along for the ride.  We recover,yes, but do we ever stop seeking the reward?  If you love coffee, do you ever stop being wistful when you smell that aroma?

We humans enjoy praise and approval.  Sometimes, a simple pat on the back is all we need to stay motivated.  How many times have you heard a person complain about being unappreciated by a boss or a spouse?  A little recognition goes a long way.  The problem is, there’s no guarantee in life that you’ll be given due accolades.  The truth is, it’s no one’s job to approve of us – except us.

When Principessa lamented that she had been passed over for an award which she felt she had earned, her perception was one of bewilderment and frustration.  “What do I have to do to get noticed?”  Therein lies the problem.  When the self-satisfaction in a job well-done is dependent on recognition, we suffer.

“Go ahead,” I advised.  “If you want a ‘doing’ award, then DO.”  Do the parlor tricks where you hit a ball 90 mph or block the most goals, or get the highest test grades.  Practice as hard as you can.  Stay up late studying.  Worry yourself silly.  Pile your efforts on top of your talent and go for it.  Teachers and coaches will notice you with a certificate and a handshake.  You may even get a scholarship, which will make your parents extra happy.  But none of these things guarantees your success.  You may have more choices for college; colleges like people who achieve on paper and in the field.  It’s a bonus if you end up being a good kid too.  But these admirers can’t promise you happiness, or even a good career.

There will be no awards for most mature teen.  If there were, you would win.  There is no prize money for most honest and loyal.  You’d win those, too.  Heck, I could list a hundred things you do ‘better’ than your peers.  But the point is not to feel better than.  Your job, my dear teen, is to figure yourself out – how you want to contribute to the world and who you want to be. If you never win an award in the process, smile and say thank you for the not noticing.  While all eyes are looking in the other direction, you are working on humbleness and self-motivation. Without the complication of external feedback, you are free to explore yourself and develop your own unique purpose that is not dependent on another’s opinion.

You don’t need people telling you you’re doing a good job at life.  There is no such thing.  There is no good life or bad life.  There is only life, full of limitless potential.  What you do with that potential is your choice.  What others think of your choices -the way they do or don’t take notice – is their business.

Principessa, I admire you.  I don’t tell you all the time because I don’t want you to rely on my admiration.  My words are of better use in helping you find what will sustain you for the long haul.  My job is to nurture your passions and  help you discover the greatness  in yourself, for yourself.  Because when all the award ceremonies are over, you still have to live with you, even when no one is watching.

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