Sunday, November 8, 2009

What a Day

The last few days have been amazing. My son Luke and his girlfriend Sarah were married in a ceremony in Boston that brought together friends and family from all over in a celebration of joy and gratitude. The entire experience was sheer delight.

In preparation for the event, I spent Thursday evening scouring through old photos, scanning and retouching the ones that I wanted, and then printing everything to create a book that presented Luke from the day he was born to just a few weeks ago. Iris and our friend Jeanette helped me to them in an album that we presented to the bride and groom at their rehearsal dinner.

Last night, as Iris and I drove home from the reception, after having put together the photo history of Luke, and after seeing all three of my kids together as real, live adult human beings, I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy and gratitude for who each of them had become.
During the festivities, many people came up to me to comment on how wonderful my kids were and how I must have done something really special in raising them. As I thought about it, I concluded, "No, they really did it themselves."

And then it struck me. As much as I'd like to take credit for who they've become, in the end, the biggest contributor to their personal development has been each of them. Joy, Eila and Luke have developed into three distinctly different and delightful people with distinctly different sets of beliefs, attitudes and commensurate responses to situations around them.

As parents, we can house, feed and care for our kids. We can create opportunities for them to experience the world and learn. We can help them through different challenges and situations. But in the end, they're the ones who choose who they become and how they experience their worlds.

Easy for You to Say
Of course, I didn't always have this perspective. As the kids were growing up, when in the midst of one crisis or another, one developmental challenge or another, I was pretty much like what I imagine most parents to be; I would try to figure out how to "fix" it. I felt it incumbent upon me to come up with the solution, to save my kids from the inevitable challenges they would face were I not to intervene.

As I took in the philosophy, I slowly dropped my "got-to-fix-things" perspective and started letting my kids make their own choices and work their way through the consequences of those choices. There were times that I felt like intervening ("felt like" might be an understatement), but in the end, having the perspective of having seen things play out, I'm convinced that each of knows what is best for us, even kids.

How to Non-Parent Your Children
So, based on all this, there are definitely some attitudes towards child-rearing that I adopted as my kids grew older that, were I to do this all again, I would have adopted from the beginning.

1. It's all going to be OK.
If you change nothing else in your attitude about raising your kids, change this. Simply by putting yourself in to the mindset of everything is going to be fine, can change everything for both you and for them.

When we worry about our kids, whether or not they'll catch the swine flu, whether or not they'll emerge from Autism, whether or not they'll be accepted by friends, whether or not they'll do well in school, whether or not they'll be able to take care of themselves financially, we compromise our ability to help and support them, and we teach them to be fearful. Our kids aren't born worriers, they learn it from us. So, in the midst of the crisis du jour, take a deep breath and remind yourself, "it's all going to alright."

2. Don't Give Them the Answers
It's so easy to get so caught up in making sure that our kids "know" the answers, that we never let our kids learn how to "derive" the answers. Whenever we intervene and solve a problem or address a challenge, we deny our kids the opportunity to learn how to solve problems and address challenges. When we let them figure it out, they really "get" it.

When we provide our kids the opportunity to learn how to learn, we give them a tool that can serve them in any situation. When we help them by getting them through the next school project or the next exam, we solve the immediate challenge, but we don't do much for them in the long term.

3. Learn Their Values
I think this one can be really amazing. As parents, we're told that we need to instill our values into our children. I have no idea how this all comes to pass, but somehow when we adopt items one and two, our kids seem to be able to create values on their own, values that are really deep, insightful and rich with meaning. When we learn what our children value and then align our actions and support with their values, we can provide them an amazing springboard from which they can jump to reach their goals.

For some of us, the idea that our kids have their own values may never occur; we never see them. For others, their values may seem so different than our own that we react quickly to get them under control. In the end, I think the easiest and most useful approach is to learn what our kids value, embrace them and then see where it takes us.

Triply Blessed
So, as I revel this morning in the memory of a delicious weekend, I wanted to share with you what was on my mind. I wish for you a worry-free, celebratory day with your children filled with bidirectional sharing and learning!

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