I apologize up front. This is going to be intensely personal, probably very long, and only really relevant to parents. That having been said, I need to get it out. This is, to some extent, a conversation I’ve been having, both internally in my head, and externally with with friends, parents and my spouse for near around 20 years. My children are currently four and one and a half. This will be a conversation I have with each of them, most likely separately, not likely very soon. But it will happen, because I know the circumstances already that will lead to it being a necessity.
I think it is possible that I delayed having kids for a time because I didn’t feel like this dialogue was yet fully flushed out in my head. At some point, I realized that it never will be. This also came along with the realization that some people, for better or worse, never have this conversation. Some have it, realize they can’t live up to this promise, and then have kids anyway. Life is like that. I don’t expect anyone else to live up to this standard. I expect MYSELF to live up to this standard. I’m not telling anyone else what to do. I’m not judging anyone else. Each of us, once we commit to the new life in our midst, has to decide how to approach this on their own, and make their own call about what it means. As mentioned above, I think this is intensely personal, and unique for every parent, with every child. Perhaps this is my disclaimer about what you’re going to read.
And from here on, you need to imagine me (or yourself) sitting across the table from your child, and I’m going to switch that perspective so that someday, if they read this, they will know it is to them…
I’ll start with an analogy. It is one I thought up a long time ago, and maybe now, tonight, I understand it more completely than ever before.
I imagine life is sort of like walking across a stream. We’re walking across together. The water is moving fast. It isn’t very deep, but the rocks we walk on are slippery. Not all of them are stable, sometimes we have to step in the water, on a rock that wobbles a lot, just to get across. But we’ll keep moving forward, together… for now. I want you to know that I’ve walked across this stream, or one very much like it, before. I was walking with my parents. Someday, fates willing, you’ll do the same with kids of your own.
The first part of this analogy is that no matter what, we’re going to keep going. We may stop to rest sometimes, but we will always keep moving forward. For the moment, I’m going to point across the stream, and tell you that is the right direction. At the moment, you don’t know, or can’t know, what that means… for now you have to trust me that I know. Someday, at some point in the future, you’re going to find your own direction, let go of my hand, and strike out on your own. Remember this point, I’ll get back to it later.
Next, there are going to be times when I’m going to see a spot in the stream that looks familiar to me, I’m going to see a rock I stepped on before, and when I took that step, I slipped, fell, and landed on my butt in the water, and got hurt. Maybe it was some physical pain, maybe it was shame, maybe it was just an awkward moment… whatever. I’ll point that out to you. I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t take that same step I did. Maybe I’ll point out a different path, another rock. Or maybe I’ll just ask you to wait a moment until the current isn’t quite so fast, but the choice is still yours. Sometimes, you’re going to take my advice, avoid the fall, and we’ll move on from there. Sometimes, you’re going to take my miss-step anyway, and fall on your butt, just like I did. I won’t tell you “I told you so” (ok, maybe I will) … but maybe it will show you that sometimes, I do have good advice. That maybe I can help steer you in tough times. My first promise is this… whenever you fall, I will *always* do my best to be there to help you back up. I’ll kiss your cheek, give you a band-aid, give you a hug, or talk to you about what happened. Whatever you need right then, I will *always* try to be there for that.
Sometimes, you’re going to take that step, and NOT fall. In those moments, you’re going to see something in me you won’t recognize until later in life. Pride. I’m going to be proud of you. Proud of you for succeeding where I did not. Pride in standing up for yourself and what you believed in, even when I told you there might be a negative outcome. I hope you will see from this that I’m not perfect. I hope you will see I’m ok admitting that. I hope you will see that though I’m not always right, I was still trying to look out for you. My second promise is that I will do my best not to be angry that you didn’t listen to me, and try to see that you’re learning to make decisions for yourself, knowing full well they might not be good ones. That your independence is just as important to me as your success.
I will tell you right now that there are going to be times when I will see the slippery rock, and I’m going to be very insistent that you don’t take that step, that you pick a different path instead, no matter how much you complain. I may use words like “forbid” or “you’re grounded” or “don’t take that tone with me young (lady|man)”. You’re going to wonder why it isn’t like the earlier case where I let you make your own mistake. I need you to just trust me on this one. I may or may not have an explanation that makes sense to you at the time. My next promise is that I will make my best effort to use this “veto power” that parents have as sparingly as possible. I won’t take it lightly, and I won’t use it carelessly or casually. It will only be when I think that the possible outcome is so bad that it would be MUCH worse than the lesson you would learn by making the mistake yourself. It is my hope that someday you will see the logic and understand, even though that “someday” might be much later in your life. Sometimes, the 38+ years I’ve lived more than you have will have more weight than the force of your will and nature.
Now getting back to that earlier point. Someday, we will find ourselves at a spot in our journey where you are going to want to let go of my hand and take off in a different direction. That is also ok. We may not agree on when that time should be. I did the same thing with my parents. I would ask that you recognize how difficult a time that is for parents. Letting go is hard. Maybe *the* hardest thing we’ll ever do. To some extent, we sign an unwritten agreement when we had you that was a long term deal. We knew full well that we were signing up for the long haul. That brings me to the last promise. What we were signing up for was to make sure that when you did decide to let go, and make your own journey, that we had done our very best to prepare you for what was ahead. It won’t be perfect. You won’t always agree. From the moment you let go, you will see and do things we probably would never have imagined. All we can hope for is that we steered you right, gave you the right guidance, and left you with the smarts to make the decisions on your own, the common sense to be intuitive about your path, the independence to be able to stand up straight on your own, the compassion to help those you’ll meet in the future, and the emotional maturity to handle your successes and your failures with grace, humility and honesty.
I guess there is one more thing too, worth mentioning. You may find that the first time you let go doesn’t work out quite as planned. Sometimes there are false starts, and for that part, you will always have a home with us. No matter what the circumstances are, you can always count on the hugs, band-aids and the support you need to try again. Don’t ever feel shame in that. The only failure from falling down is if you don’t learn (or don’t want to learn) the lesson from it. Why you fell… how to not fall again for the same reason. We will do our best to be here for that part too.
I love you. Now go back to your room. You’re still grounded until further notice.