Project Parenting

C at sea

This morning I had a long-overdue cuppa tea with a friend. Of course we talked about our kids. My Teen is a few years ahead of hers, and so conversations in our home run a different course than she has to deal with quite yet – driving, drinking, dating, college, life goals and plans… My friend has a special gift for making me feel like a stellar mom, even though I suspect all moms (all parents) just do their best in each moment, none of us truly knowing exactly what to do or how to do it. And each kid is entirely different, complicating this whole Parenting thing.

The closer Teen gets to high school graduation, the more I am convinced that there is no One Path Fits All. I am also increasingly convinced that culturally we have done our kids a disservice, robbing them of the freedom and fun of childhood far too early. My kid isn’t me, and the world he occupies isn’t the one in which I grew up. I wish I had realized that years ago and encouraged him to take the most fun-for-him classes that would also get him through middle school and high school, competition-based “shoulds” be damned. I have another kid who might yet benefit from this enlightened perspective, but chances are high that his path will be so entirely different that lessons learned with Teen won’t fit. Sigh.

A few hours later I read a magazine article about people who engage in long-term projects: hiking the Appalachian Trail, for example, or completing a cross-stitched quilt that consumed “free time” on and off for close to 50 years. The quilter said, “In art, when you’re creating, you have to be open to the possibilities” (Sister Judith Ann Shea, quoted by Amy Shearn in Real Simple, Feb 2016). Shearn goes on to say:

Being, and staying, open to the possibilities. That, right there, is exactly the near mystical appeal of the long haul… [The similar attitudes of those who undertake long-term projects] remind me to enjoy the slowness of a worthy, complex endeavor, to surround myself with positive people, and to remember to laugh, even through the moments that aren’t fun, even when you look in front of you and see hundreds more miles to walk…

Which sounds a whole lot like parenting, one heckuva worthy long-term endeavor! You create a family (whatever that looks like, but at least involves parent and child), and then you stay open to possibilities. You commit your life to help another human being create their life. The complexity of parenting takes every ounce of parental creativity; once you think you’ve got anything figured out, your kid changes or circumstances change and you find yourself back at, well, not Square 1, but at least a few steps off.

Which is why parents need to surround themselves with positive people, safe friends who Get It, who will listen and not try to fix you or your kids because none of you truly require fixing. We all need friends who love us unconditionally, friends who won’t judge. Friends who help us remember to laugh especially through the no-fun moments that threaten to last forever.

Not new news, of course, but today it feels like a fresh perspective:

Parenting = the most creative long-term project I will ever undertake.

Good thing I like creative projects. Thank God for the gift of this family, and thank God for friends to walk alongside as together we enjoy the slowness of this hike of a lifetime.

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