Many parents, including me, live in disparate worlds vacillating between the realms of guilt and anxiety and pride and love.
If you read this column weekly or semi-regularly, you well understand this has morphed into a journal of sorts. I view thoughts and experiences shared here as something that a reader may identify with and feel comforted by, whether you’re a parent raising kids today or watching them live as adults. I’m basically writing about my own feelings here, but I am confident enough others identify with these emotions to put it in print. I hear from many of you that’s the case. The realization there are others charting similar courses comforts me, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me along this journey.
It’s natural for us parents to dither from time to time into the negative world as life throws us curve balls and pressure mounts, but we need to remember being involved, active and invested in our kids’ lives is the key to raising kids. Our attention is our biggest gift to our kids. We need to take it easy on ourselves with all the other stuff.
Some may disagree and say all that matters is love. I would argue love comes naturally. My dad, who died last year, loved me throughout his life. I always knew that even in the dark days of addiction and selfishness. It was just a different kind of love. It didn’t involve being present and truly caring about what was happening in my life. It was my mom who filled that role. As I’ve written about in the past, my dad’s addiction demons blocked everything including me. Although he was well-intentioned, most of the time, I learned from him how not to parent.
Parenting to me is coming home from work to my kids every day, cutting work short for this or that appointment, practice or game and going outside and playing when it’s really the last thing I want to do because I’m tired after working. These are all responsibilities and sacrifices to me, but it’s also what I want to do. It’s living in the now with a realization about long-term life that I’m focused on.
They’re not going to want to play with me forever. I can see it now already with Beckett, who does sometimes pick friends down the street over me and Carson. I play it off like I want him to be down there and not with us, but I don’t really mean it. I refuse to be selfish, however. I want him to grow into a well-adjusted, happy individual. Part of that is being with kids his age who may or may not share our same moral compass. Learning what to do and deciding what not to do is part of growing up.
From casual conversations I have with parents, I can tell there’s an introspective preoccupation with how we are raising our kids. We hope, pray and desire to be good parents. Depending on the personality traits of the parents, some of us are harsh on ourselves as parents and question every decision. We battle our insecurities about our role as parents and it brings on much worry. Others rely on moral judgment and a value system and do whatever they think will ultimately result in raising good humans, while occasionally waffling in a sea of indecision.
Many parents worry about their kids when they are not with us, especially when they reach an age of independence and actively seek time away from us. That can be heartbreaking, but it’s part of rearing kids. We raise them after all to move on and live independently.
Introspection is a good thing, but we need to understand every child is different. Our biggest gift is our attention and involvement. Sometimes reining that in can be a challenge. Our role evolves over time in our children’s lives, but we must maintain a consistent presence. Along the way comes thousands of decisions, half of which get critically second guessed by us and 16th guessed by our kids.
What we as parents have that our young ones don’t have is perspective. Kids live with blinders, which parents cannot afford. We make decisions we regret, but thanks to the beauty of hindsight we learn. Life’s experiences will provide a similar path for our children.
As I’m writing this column on my laptop at home, it’s Wednesday night and I’m sitting on a stool at a table that doubles as a game table, kitchen table and clutter holder. My former home office is now Carson’s bedroom. As I write, Beckett is in the shower singing “Shallow” with some creative lyric adaptations, and Carson is trying to fit six packages of juice boxes into the fridge. While hearing lots of shuffling of items, I am resisting the urge to lay eyes on him and trusting my ears. My mind begins to drift to whether I should be helping him, rather than catching up on my work because I took off at 1 p.m. for a half day of school. I decide to work but feel guilty.
We parents must give ourselves a break. I like how columnist Frank Bruni put it in the New York Times in a 2013 column, “A Childless Bystander’s Battle Hymn.”
“So parents: cut yourselves some slack. Take a deep breath,” he wrote. “No one false step or one missed call is going to consign your children to an entirely different future. Make sure that they know they’re loved. Make sure that they know their place. And make peace with the fact that you don’t hold all or even most of the cards. There may be a frustrating sense of helplessness in that realization. But there’s a mercy, too.”