The Parent Pace

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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

I have run nine marathons. I have trained for and completed a full Ironman. I know what it means to pace myself. I recognize the importance of managing heart rate and effort and nutrition and expectations to get myself across the finish line. Sometimes I met expectations, sometimes I exceeded them, sometimes I fell far short. All attempts taught me something about managing my body and my effort. I know to start out slow and pick a point at which to pick it up. When I had a coach, we measured my effort based upon lactate threshold and heart rate training. And in order to be competitive the effort demanded I operate within a tension – taking a risk and pushing beyond what I thought possible, while remaining attentive to my body’s data.

I loved the training and the challenge. I often compared my times to other women of similar ability and strove to push myself farther and faster in an attempt to match their accomplishment. I learned a great appreciation for my body and for the power of effort and the power of recovery.

And while these pacing lessons served me in the act of achieving in physical competition, they have served me more in the act of living, specifically in the act of parenting.

The importance of maximizing effort and energy when effort and energy are demanded is a key component in sustenance. There are times to double down and dig in heels and times to let go and just be. There are times to let some things slide and other times to make the point – again. There are times to speak and other times to listen. There are times to yell and scream and point and other times to walk away. All of it matters. All of it requires intuition and discernment. And none of it will be done to perfection. The work is strategic. No-one can anticipate difficulty or tragedy or trouble, but we can view what is before us and make a rudimentary plan, a plan that is fluid and breathable, elastic. I believe this is the beauty of wisdom.

And how much do we hang onto as parents that isn’t ours to hang onto?

As I observe my eldest march ever closer to the end of his life with us as we know it, ready to embark and leave our home, I am once again reminded of the imperative that the primary goal of parenting is to work ourselves out of a job.While I know we will always be his parents and we will always carry concern and cash, the first ones present in any major crisis or celebration, our influence is minimal. This has been true for awhile now. This steady march, this countdown is a reminder to let go.

This is our last act as parents of this child as we know him. This job description has an end date.

Brooks has not been our easiest child, nor is he fully cooked, but this final year has proved to us that he is ready. He is aware of the expectations and responsibilities before him. As we have removed ourselves more and more from G.P.A. and test scores and scheduling and family demands and curfew, I have also removed Brooks from being an extension of my value and worth as a mother, as a human. He has been the main factor in determining my unnecessary expectations and smashing them to bits.

His job is to become himself. His job is to go into the world and learn and navigate. His job is try things on and reject or include. While I still hold my job title of Mom it now comes with a caveat: …but he’s in college and he no longer lives with us.

This tension of parenting a young adult, not yet fully formed, demands risk. The entire grand experiment could fail miserably, but I’ve seen enough to know it’s time. And oh my word, I guarantee I’ll be a wreck, for eighteen years feels simultaneously far too short and far too long. The paradox of parenting. But I’m in the final stretch – the finish line is just around the bend. I can hear the crowd cheering, the music is pumping hard in time with my detached feet. My chest burns, my heart pounds. I have paced well. The tears of relief and gratitude and wonder track my salted cheeks. It’s time.

I guess the universe delivers that which serves us most. And I was dealt a remarkable boy who made me, me. I am grateful for the work of parenting Brooks – from Day One he defied expectations and forced me to tackle my presuppositions and the affirmation of me. He has brought me to the end of myself while also being a great teacher. I am who I am because of this child. None of it easy. All of it good. I have not the vocabulary to describe my gratitude.

Three more weeks to graduation.

I have paced well.

4 thoughts on “The Parent Pace

  1. Wow!! Are you speaking this essay at graduation? What phenomenal words, friend! Thank you!!

  2. Jen, I take such comfort in reading what you’ve written about parenting. It speaks to me on a level I’ve not been able to communicate with others, my spouse, my friends, or my mother. My firstborn has been my greatest challenge. She has not been my greatest teacher, because I am not a great student. But I am still growing and seeing the world through her eyes. And with guidance from my spouse, I am learning to be the parent she needs, not the one I thought I needed to be. It is an extremely painful process. I see failures everywhere. And my successes are few and fleeting. She too is half baked, and is moving into the world of adults. The tugs on my apron strings have felt relentless as she struggled through her teen years. And slashing those strings in outbursts of anger when I failed her. Exhaustion followed by injury. But I know she suffered more than I did. And it broke my heart as only a parent knows. The last 3 years have felt like an eternity, as I have shared her struggles. Even thought she felt alone, I was with her in her pain. And yet, the last 17 years have gone by so quickly. I can’t imagine a life without her in my daily routine – and on my worst days, and lately they’ve outnumbered my best days, I wished for relief. To launch this child into the world as a capable young lady. And to free me of the burden and pain of parenting this child. And yet my fear persists. Will she succeed in creating a happy life? I want nothing more than for my two daughters to become the persons God intended them to be, to have a happy life, pursuing their purposes, and dreams. As they approach independence, I am beginning to rediscover who I am, greatly reshaped by the experiences of parenting two amazing daughters; one who shares so much of my personality, that what I once knew to be true, I have now discarded. As she begins to take shape as an adult, I am taking shape as someone and something different. I think into a better person than the one I was before. I miss the child who would run and leap into my arms, trusting me to catch her every time. Now she is wiser. I pray that she will come back to me with the love and understanding and forgiveness only an adult can know and offer. Amidst all this turmoil and fear, exists my hope and excitement for her. And my resilient love for her.

    1. My heart is in my throat reading your words Amira. You have done a most excellent job describing your experience and the experience of so many of us. Motherhood is a fraught business that only time and forgiveness can heal. It sounds to me like you’re an amazing mom who loves her daughters well. None of us get to do this perfectly, only with jerky motions that sometimes resemble what we are trying to accomplish. All I can tell you is that the child I wrote about is doing really well – finding himself and his people – away from our home this first month of college. I don’t think I could be more proud of him. And believe me, it was a rocky road for us. Sending hugs your way!!

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