Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.
― Anne Frank
Two-thirds of my kids started school today. And it wasn’t just any first day of school day, it was the beginning of new chapters. The middle child started high school, joining her older brother. And the youngest started middle school. We went from three buildings to two, vacating the local elementary of Jepsens.
I am not one to shed many tears on these first days. After being wrecked once or twice, the tears rolled brief, followed by copious exclamations of gratitude and God’s goodness and Hallelujahs and Praise Jesuses for public education and loving educators.
The never-ending days of babies and toddlers when the minutes ticked and tocked, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tiiick-tooock, tiiiiiick-tooooock, tiiiiiiiiiiick-tooooooooock are leagues behind us. The arduous hours and ungodly early mornings with the wake-up alarm of tiny feet pitter-pattering down the stairs are long gone. The 9:00 A.M. McDonald’s Drive-thru Large Diet Cokes are no longer needed to rescue a tired mama from her momentary troubles, nor are impromptu playdates and park visits and spoonfuls of peanut butter (well, maybe not quite, just yet. I still need those).
As slow as the clock moves, the years fly sure and fast, and I stand awed and overwhelmed by the humans these three have become and are becoming.
I have been known to wish for time to slow, for more moments, for more experiences, but I don’t speak this often to my children. Their work is not to cater to my need for more of them. Their work is not to assuage my fear that I haven’t done enough. Their work is certainly not to meet my needs or make me feel better about myself. Their work is to be teenagers, to be my kids.
My children better leave me. They better want to go. They better. I am not planning to make life miserable for them, but I will if they do not choose more. My work is quality control, to scan for inconsistencies in character and integrity, to inspect disparities in judgement, to honor their giftedness, to speak into their hopes and dreams – asking leading questions rather than issuing automatic convention and prudent advice.
I want my kids to leave and come back of their own volition. I want my kids to prefer their friends to us. I want my kids to explore and discover the world. I want them to get hurt and spend too much money and make mistakes. I want them to have some hard knocks and learn resilience.
I want my kids to experience the goodness of people, to know the kindness and generosity of many. I also want them to glimpse the pain and suffering around them, to recognize injustice and gain empathy. They need to be aware of differences and have language and understanding of what that means, that different is not an excuse for mockery or condemnation, that different is just different and demands respect and compassion.
My kids are far cooler than I ever was, they are aware, they have a depth of perception in many ways I did not receive until well into adulthood. My kids are certainly not perfect, nor should they be. I am grateful for their fierce independence and determination, their interest and skill.
So, as they embark on this new year, I hope they have some hard knocks and I hope they have some stellar successes. I hope there is wisdom they glean that alters their comfort levels and not their criminal records. I hope, as parents, Eric and I persist in offering abundant conversation and sparse advice, while they stare at phones or gaze at the ground, responding with mutters and moans. I hope we see time managed well and time managed poor, for these life lessons are crucial when the stakes are low, before there’s a mortgage, a marriage and a smattering of kids.
Most of all, I pray my fear will be held at bay in this, my parenting finale of the eldest. I pray I choose silence rather than I told you so’s. I pray I honor their individuality rather than clumping them altogether, resisting the comparisons. I pray I utilize the gift of the authentic apology, remembering grace and forgiveness are my supreme allies.
Parents, we don’t get to do this job perfectly. We don’t. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can get on with things. Perfect immobilizes, rendering us rigid and harsh, assuming the worst of our children and fellow parents. May we free ourselves from perfection and fear, opening ourselves up to the beautiful work our children get to do of becoming. Yes it’s hard, yes it’s heartbreaking sometimes, yes it’s challenging, and the stream of grief is a consistent presence, running right alongside, bubbling to the surface when least expected.
May we work together in this good work, encouraging and supporting.
May we be on the lookout for each other’s kids as a village that rallies rather than condemns.
May we not forget this parenting deal is our premier work, the best thing we will ever do – to launch grown humans, doing what they do, living their lives, loving and receiving and contributing to their worlds.
I still have many more first days, and I cannot guarantee I will be composed and jubilant for them all, but the work is good and the work is lasting.
Disclaimer: I recognize many parents have less than ideal parenting situations. My insight offered in this post covers my own children and our experience and I am aware this can change at any moment. As far as I know we have no challenging physical or mental illness. It is not my attempt to minimize or ignore difficulties in other families.