To be a parent is to live in a constant cacophony of emotion.
The intense joy and fierce protectiveness when you hold your newborn. The exasperation of managing a toddler. The hopefulness as your little boy hits his first single. The inner pain as she shows you her bloody knee. The perplexity of childhood rivalries and shifting loyalties. Confusion, ecstasy, disappointment, anxiety, self-recriminations, pride, grief, fun…every day is a ride with unpredictable twists and turns.
And, <irony> best of all </irony> - there’s no way you can prepare for it, no way you can be adequate, no way you can have the wisdom you need until you’ve pretty much run through the gamut. You can’t possibly be ready for this jumble.
Well, generations before us have taken the plunge, often at a much earlier age and with far greater disadvantages. All other risks and adventures pale in comparison.
Growing up isn’t just for the kids. It’s for us at the same time. Embrace the jumble. It’s yours whether you planned for it or not!
Yesterday, we were at a pool with some friends, who have two sons.
The parents are both the quiet, studious, orderly type. And the first son has followed in that train - his internal wiring, from birth, was a reflection of the disposition of his parents.
Not, however, his brother! Right from the get-go, this kid had wilder eyes. And as I tossed him around in the pool, it was obvious that his circuits remain wired quite differently from those of his brother. Same parents. Same upbringing. Very different wiring.
I’ve seen this countless times before. You look at the lineup of kids and say, “Yep - clearly all one family.” Then you experience the personalities and you’re left scratching your head. “How did this couple produce that??”
We do have a tremendous responsibility to shape, to mold, to instruct, to guide - but the longer we go on as parents, the more we realize that there is a layer of wiring in each child that cannot fundamentally be reversed. Some kids are astoundingly sociable. Others are quiet and hesitant. Some come into the world shaking their fist at all around them (including you, Mom or Dad!). And some insist, from early on, that they’re going to learn every lesson the hard way.
It’s the easiest thing in the world for a parent to feel guilty about how their kids are turning out. Some negligent folks probably ought to feel MORE guilty than they do! But there is a level of false guilt that can be discarded. When the sperm and egg meet, there is something magical that happens. Unique and unpredictable wiring. We may be dealt a hand that is quite unexpected. Powerboat parents may get canoe daughters, or vice-versa. Everyone ends up happier when we just learn to play with the hand we’re dealt!
Sometimes, as my kids get older, I find myself fast-forwarding to what I hope to tell them later.
When they’re ready. Like, when they cross the threshold and become parents themselves.
This is what came to mind this morning:
When you have your own little ones, your job is…
- to give them legs strong enough for the long haul.
- to make their arms sturdy enough to provide for themselves (and others).
- to nurture their innate abilities in whatever positive direction that leads.
- to mold their minds into the path of knowledge AND wisdom.
- to shape their hearts to be both tender enough to read others’ pain, and stout enough to bear their own.
- to stiffen their spine to stand up for themselves and for others who need them.
- to never give up seeking to model all of the above, no matter how feebly and imperfectly.
That is the exhilaratingly painful privilege - the joyous responsibility - of being a parent. It was my parents’ role, and my role, and now the torch is passed to you.
It’s your true legacy.