February 23, 2013
A Study in Parenting
The other evening I stopped in at Starbucks for a cup of tea while I was killing some time before I had to pick up my son. I saw a woman I know a little and like, who was doing the same thing. I said hi and then sat down opposite her and we started to chat. Like me, she has four children - two young teenagers and two small children, all boys. She told me she was supposed to be doing homework, but she was reading a novel on her i-phone instead. I asked her what she was studying and then she told me she was finishing up a bachelor's degree she has been working away at for ten years. She told me she had been accepted to a Master's program for next year. She and her husband are also building a house on their lakefront property and running a small business. She told me of her ambitious long-term plans for her career, which sounded perfectly reasonable to me given her passion, enthusiasm, intelligence, and energy.
Soon, it was time for both of us to go and pick up our sons from their respective activities. As I walked to my car which was parked in the nearby lot in front of Pricesmart Foods I processed and pondered all my acquaintance had told me about herself, amazed at her energy. I remembered a time a few years ago when I was sitting in a coffee shop at a table next to hers - I didn't know her then. I was with all of my kids and we were out for a treat, happily talking and laughing in our usual unobtrusive way. When it was time to leave and my kids were taking turns using the bathroom, the woman said to me, "I really like the way you and your kids talk to each other. It's really great to see." I chatted with her for a bit, I can't remember what about, and then the kids and I were on our way out the door.
I suppose I could compare myself to my coffee shop friend and dwell on the things I have not done in my life, like acquire degrees and extensive collateral, but, as a friend recently told me, "There lies the way to madness." It is much better to focus on what I have done. I am not going to draw up a list here and now, but I think it's appropriate to say that if I did make such a list, my children would be my greatest achievement. I know it sounds trite. Movie stars and highly successful people in the public eye are always saying in interviews that their children are the 'best thing I've ever done,' and one wonders if they really mean it. I have not been a perfect mother, but I have learned from my mistakes over the years, and if the powers that be ever handed out certificates for parenting, I would at least qualify for a Bachelor's degree after nearly twenty years and four great children, would I not?
In parenting, the proof is usually in the pudding, as they say. I am happy to observe that my kids are all motivated, hardworking users of their talents. They are all kind and thoughtful (most of the time), but are also critical thinkers and satirists, especially of the materialistic, callous world around them. They all know what it is to climb a mountain and sleep in a tent, survive without their gadgets and just sit quietly with nature. They have learned to think a problem through and go to their parents or teachers for help when they need it. My eldest has moved away and is finding his life. He checks in with all of us from time to time, just to say hello, to tell us about a decision he has made or something new he is doing, like starting a band. He is independent now and happy to be so. I find I do not worry about him, which surprises me. I suppose I thought that being so available and 'there' for my children might make them more dependent on me once they grew up, but perhaps I have really been helping them gradually gain the tools they need to function in the world.
The greatest of these tools is probably emotional security. My own parents gave me the tools, the language, and the emotional support to know and accept myself, and therefore, to figure out where I belonged in the world. When I was upset and emotional as a teenager - which, according to my diary, was at regular intervals - my mom always knew how to help me get to the bottom of what was bothering me, because sometimes I didn't even know myself. I built a personality and a life on that self-knowledge and have tried to pass that on to my children by giving them the support and love they need to find their own way in the world. One important thing I learned as a young person was that I only had a certain amount of energy to use, and if I pushed myself too hard, then my body would sort of shut down. I also learned that I was sensitive to my environment, to the people around me, and that I needed regular time alone and regular exercise to keep my mood on an even keel. Having the words to identify my strengths and my limits was helpful. I did not always listen to those words, but I always knew deep down why things went awry when I didn't listen to those inner voices. I have had struggles over the years trying to keep a good balance in my life, and to challenge myself in various ways, and I hope my children have learned from me that maintaining a good balance in life is extremely important for both their mental and physical health.
I don't have any framed certificates hanging on my office wall, but I do have four living, breathing, well-adjusted creative kids who can carry on a respectful, intelligent conversation with an adult, become a valuable employee and a trusted friend. And someday when their dad and I are old and grey, they may have good memories of their upbringing and still want to spend time with us. That isn't to say my dreams lie only in my children. There are plenty of things I want to achieve in life, and like my friend, I'm working on it, but life is long. My children's childhood is short and precious.
The photo: One of our happy family memories - our last camping trip on Vancouver Island. The four kids down on the beach after a hike in search of the sun.
Emma and I have a new post up at Stella's Virtual Cafe, too. Check it out if you're hungry for a little story and a bite of something tasty.