Thursday, May 17, 2012

On Parenting: Success and Failure

(thanks for the inspiration Sisters)

Yesterday one of my close friends posted on FB  "My parents told me they think I am a failure".  She went on to say that they felt that way because she hadn't decided to pursue a typical high-power, high-stress career such as finance, medicine, or law.  This made me think.

I am also a parent.  What do I want for my boys?

Before I dive into that, however, there are some realities of parenting that I would like to share from my 10 years of experience at it.  Sisters, feel free to have your parents read this blog.

1) You do not OWN your children (neither do they own you)
Last time I checked, slavery has been abolished in the free world.  Giving life to our children is the single greatest thing that can happen to any of us. We have, for that single event, the power to create something everlasting.  We have the power to create something that can change the course of history (good or bad); something that can be independent and individual.  We create change that can then create change.  We do not own the changes, we are merely a facilitator of them.

I am not against children having responsibilities.  In fact, just the opposite.  Having responsibilities is part of understanding our place in any group we belong to - and a family is one of those groups.  However, I always try to leave it up to my children to decide to fulfill their responsibilities or suffer the consequences of that.  They don't do their job; I don't do my job (like cooking for them, playing games with them, reading to them, taking them where they want to go, etc.).  However, it is wrong (and unfair) for parents to expect their children to do everything for them at command like slaves.  This takes away the feeling of control/freedom of choice from the children and leads them to the feelings of hopeless despair that they are unable to influence their own environment.  This is the basis of a fear relationship rather than a love relationship.

2) Your Children Do Not have an obligation to succeed at your failures
We all make mistakes.  It is part of being alive and being human.  Adding mistakes to mistakes does not correct them, it makes them worse.  It is the worst of mistakes to imagine that our children exist for the purpose of becoming the person we failed to become.  It is not their responsibility to become the sports hero we could not be, to get into the college we could not enter, to land the job we could not get, to make the money we did not have, to marry the person we couldn't win over, and so on.  Our failures are OUR OWN, and we have to be mature enough not to project them onto our children (who will have plenty of their own, believe me).

3) Your Children Need Not Follow In Your Footsteps
Likewise, if you are successful (first of all, good for you) it is not your children's responsibility to become your clone.  They need not follow your career path, but instead need to find and define their own.  Hard as it may be to accept, they need not share your particular passion for classical music, pro-wrestling, fishing, or whatever.  They will find their own interests, and as a good parent it is far more important that you share THEIRS, rather than the other way around.  if you don't over time it will become hard to bond with them.

4) Being A Parent Is About Learning To Let Go (so is everything else)
All of life is about learning to let go.  Let go of fear, let go of anger, let go of sadness, let go of expectation, let go of prejudice, let go of attachments, let go of desire.  The list goes on and on.  In parenting, it is very important to accept the family situation for what it is, and not to be disappointed by the many challenges that inevitably are a part of it.  Focus on the joyful moments and it is far, far easier.

5) Your Children Will Learn More from their Friends than from their Teachers (or their parents)
Peer pressure/social pressure is very real.  It is important to surround your children with good, positive peer role models, as well as good teachers.  Pay attention to your childrens' friends.  Meet them.  Engage them and understand what kind of people they are.  This will be far more important than you imagine.

We all want our children to succeed.  In concrete terms, what do I think this means?
I want my boys to be happy.  When I say "happy" I am not talking about the temporary happiness that comes from eating ice cream or watching a favorite TV show (although that is OK sometimes, too).  I am also not talking about the crazy happiness of being at Disneyland (also, sometimes OK, too).  I define happiness as:

"Feeling a state of contenment born of purpose, and of feeling an essential part of one's social fabric, cared for and respected by others.  Valued.  Trusted. Loved.  Important. Challenged.  Rewarded.  Grateful. Free. Curious/interested. Engaged.  Aware."

I personally believe this comes from having a solid academic and ethical/moral education, a strong spiritual education/awareness (not necessarily Christian), and a balanced social network of friends and mentors.

Notice I do not specifically mention any career choices here, since I think you can be happy regardless of the job you do or the career path you choose.  I myself have been on many paths, having started my latest career shift a scant 3 months ago.  Anyone who thinks they can know their lifetime career path when they are still a student is not being realistic or is a very special person indeed (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example).  Even many of the greatest of us did not know his/her path until they stumbled onto it.

How could I fail as a parent?  What would that mean?
I feel like I have had literally thousands of failures as a parent:  the many, many times I didn't say the right things at the right moment.  The times I felt too tired, or too stressed from work, or too caught up in my own life to give the time and attention my children deserved.  So much more.  Luckily, the big picture has a way of smoothing over the rough spots in the small picture.  I am grateful for this.  Basically,
  • I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my children did not have self-respect, self-control, self-discipline. 
  • I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my children did not feel loved and respected by me unconditionally. 
  • I would feel like a failure as a parent if my children felt they could not trust me or depend on me no matter what. 
  • I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my children were reluctant to talk to me about something important to them. 
  • I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my children did not feel they had the tools to make themselves happy (see above).
  • I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my children did not have a sense of adventure about their lives and a sense of wonder about the world.
  • I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my children did not understand that success requires effort.
  • I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my children were not kind and respectful to others or lacked proper social skills.
I clarify here that although I have had many failures, I do not consider myself a failure as a parent (yet).  Mistakes are part of the process, and I try to learn from them.  I remain focused on the above.

I truly believe the martial arts offers a rich and reqarding experience for any child that can help him/her reach their potential and develop the tools to be happy.  Martial arts are also very important to me as a parent since they help me train myself to be a better person.

In closing:

On Children

by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

1 comment:

AJ said...

Thank you John.

As a parent of two, I do share your point of view.

Children are not ours, we are the honored and loving ones chosen to care for and nurture them while they experiment whatever life path are theirs :)