February 23, 2013

A Study in Parenting



The other evening I stopped in at Starbucks for a cup of tea while I was killing some time before I had to pick up my son. I saw a woman I know a little and like, who was doing the same thing. I said hi and then sat down opposite her and we started to chat. Like me, she has four children - two young teenagers and two small children, all boys. She told me she was supposed to be doing homework, but she was reading a novel on her i-phone instead. I asked her what she was studying and then she told me she was finishing up a bachelor's degree she has been working away at for ten years. She told me she had been accepted to a Master's program for next year. She and her husband are also building a house on their lakefront property and running a small business. She told me of her ambitious long-term plans for her career, which sounded perfectly reasonable to me given her passion, enthusiasm, intelligence, and energy.

Soon, it was time for both of us to go and pick up our sons from their respective activities. As I walked to my car which was parked in the nearby lot in front of Pricesmart Foods I processed and pondered all my acquaintance had told me about herself, amazed at her energy. I remembered a time a few years ago when I was sitting in a coffee shop at a table next to hers - I didn't know her then. I was with all of my kids and we were out for a treat, happily talking and laughing in our usual unobtrusive way. When it was time to leave and my kids were taking turns using the bathroom, the woman said to me, "I really like the way you and your kids talk to each other. It's really great to see." I chatted with her for a bit, I can't remember what about, and then the kids and I were on our way out the door.

I suppose I could compare myself to my coffee shop friend and dwell on the things I have not done in my life, like acquire degrees and extensive collateral, but, as a friend recently told me, "There lies the way to madness." It is much better to focus on what I have done. I am not going to draw up a list here and now, but I think it's appropriate to say that if I did make such a list, my children would be my greatest achievement. I know it sounds trite. Movie stars and highly successful people in the public eye are always saying in interviews that their children are the 'best thing I've ever done,' and one wonders if they really mean it. I have not been a perfect mother, but I have learned from my mistakes over the years, and if the powers that be ever handed out certificates for parenting, I would at least qualify for a Bachelor's degree after nearly twenty years and four great children, would I not?

In parenting, the proof is usually in the pudding, as they say. I am happy to observe that my kids are all motivated, hardworking users of their talents. They are all kind and thoughtful (most of the time), but are also critical thinkers and satirists, especially of the materialistic, callous world around them. They all know what it is to climb a mountain and sleep in a tent, survive without their gadgets and just sit quietly with nature. They have learned to think a problem through and go to their parents or teachers for help when they need it. My eldest has moved away and is finding his life. He checks in with all of us from time to time, just to say hello, to tell us about a decision he has made or something new he is doing, like starting a band. He is independent now and happy to be so. I find I do not worry about him, which surprises me. I suppose I thought that being so available and 'there' for my children might make them more dependent on me once they grew up, but perhaps I have really been helping them gradually gain the tools they need to function in the world.

The greatest of these tools is probably emotional security. My own parents gave me the tools, the language, and the emotional support to know and accept myself, and therefore, to figure out where I belonged in the world. When I was upset and emotional as a teenager - which, according to my diary, was at regular intervals - my mom always knew how to help me get to the bottom of what was bothering me, because sometimes I didn't even know myself. I built a personality and a life on that self-knowledge and have tried to pass that on to my children by giving them the support and love they need to find their own way in the world. One important thing I learned as a young person was that I only had a certain amount of energy to use, and if I pushed myself too hard, then my body would sort of shut down. I also learned that I was sensitive to my environment, to the people around me, and that I needed regular time alone and regular exercise to keep my mood on an even keel. Having the words to identify my strengths and my limits was helpful. I did not always listen to those words, but I always knew deep down why things went awry when I didn't listen to those inner voices. I have had struggles over the years trying to keep a good balance in my life, and to challenge myself in various ways, and I hope my children have learned from me that maintaining a good balance in life is extremely important for both their mental and physical health.

I don't have any framed certificates hanging on my office wall, but I do have four living, breathing, well-adjusted creative kids who can carry on a respectful, intelligent conversation with an adult, become a valuable employee and a trusted friend. And someday when their dad and I are old and grey, they may have good memories of their upbringing and still want to spend time with us. That isn't to say my dreams lie only in my children. There are plenty of things I want to achieve in life, and like my friend, I'm working on it, but life is long. My children's childhood is short and precious.

The photo: One of our happy family memories - our last camping trip on Vancouver Island. The four kids down on the beach after a hike in search of the sun.

Emma and I have a new post up at Stella's Virtual Cafe, too. Check it out if you're hungry for a little story and a bite of something tasty.

21 comments:

  1. Okay. First off, and largely because you cannot go backwards, there is little point being fixated about what you didn't do. Of course this stops no one from doing just that. But there is a particular spot on the dial where such thinking gets in the way of the current, to the point that you aren't operating in 'the now' at all.
    Having said that, I'm a student of history, so what I've said seems contradictory. But what can be taken personally from such a study is systems. Where you don't continually use a decision making process that was flawed.

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    1. But I'm not fixated anymore. That's what I'm trying to say here. I'm happy where I am in my life, and thus, can be happy for my friend where she is in hers.

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    2. I never said you were. What I'm saying is we all have a bout of the 'what ifs' every so often but with some they get stuck on it and it preys on their mind.

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    3. Oh, okay. You are right about those bouts of 'what ifs'. I forgot to say I agreed with your second paragraph too!

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  2. This is a topic that is dear to me. I won't get on a soap box about the importance of stay-at-home-moms, but yes, the proof is in the pudding.

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    1. Thank you Abby. You are consistently 'here' for these posts, and I really appreciate that.

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  3. Sounds like you've done a fantastic job. I, too, am surprised I don't worry about my daughter on a daily basis. I do have panic moments if I realize I haven't heard from her in a month, but a phone call solves that.


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    1. I know you've done a good job, too, Jen. Thanks for the comment. I know there are so many good parents out there!

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  4. I try not to judge myself - or my choices -too often. It seems there are plenty of those out there ready to do it for you regardless of qualifications. We're all susceptible to doubts, or questioning our worth in comparison to others. It means nothing, because no one else has lived the life you have. Yes, some make better choices, or have better opportunities than others, but what is more important than what you do with the combination of these things in your life is surely how happy these things make you because of the choices you've made. It's human nature to wonder if other choices would have had better outcomes. It's working those thoughts through that helps most of us learn to make the best choices in future.

    Everything I've seen you write makes me think your choices have been good. I believe all of us wish our opportunities could have been a bit better and I suspect you feel likewise.

    Cheers Rebecca. You exercised the brain once again.

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    1. Yes, you've got that right. All of it.

      I like exercising your brain, because I always get such great thoughts from you, my friend :)

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  5. smiles...i am proud of my kids...its nor easy raising then as i am sure it was not easy for my parents...love what you said about emotional support and allowing you to find yourself...i wish all kids had that kind of support...and you know, life could have been a while lot different for me...but i would no want it any other way...smiles.

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    1. We all have the lives we need to make us who we are, right? I'm pretty sure your poetry and your challenging work are possible from what you were given as a child.

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that is fine. Thanks for asking first :)

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  7. I am not at all sure that I can feel as confident about the 'job' I have done raising an 'only' child but I so appreciate all that you have said. I am also terribly proud of what you seem to have achieved with your children and have a good idea how you came by your success as I was there on Elwynn street observing your parents do their 'job'.

    Way to go my dear Rebecca. You deserve a Masters in Mothering! Love A

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    1. Hello! I am wondering who this might be...anyway, so glad to hear from you in any case. I am sure you did a good job. After all, when our children grow up they are responsible for their own lives and decisions and we have to let go and let live - and hope what we did teach them by word and example lives on like Jiminy Cricket's little voice in their head :) Cheers, and love, too.

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  8. I dare say you are not along pondering the "what ifs' listed above :) I gave up a career I loved to stay home and raise my two girls. There have been moments when I wondered if I did the right thing, but as you say, the proof is truly in the pudding. Both almost teenagers now I am proud to say my girls are sweet, caring, thoughtful and fiercly protective of their priends. I am ridiculously proud of the little people they are. I don't think there is a Mom in the world who wonders if they have taken the right or worng path, I do think we all just do the best we can :)

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    1. C'est la vie, non?

      Our decisions truly make us what we are. If we all chose the same path our world would certainly lack variety...and stories! And that would be a calamity!

      I am looking forward to catching up with your Grammy posts.

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  9. Hi Rebecca, your comment on my post clicked in my inbox while I was reading yours! :)

    Anyway...

    I'm sure you're not fishing for compliments, however, the love you have for your children is expressed so beautifully in your posts. You may think you've taken a back seat to them at times, but that is the definition of a confident mom who knows what she's doing.

    I was reading some of the other comments and thought about the "what ifs." I'm sure we all visit that notion. I tend to not go backwards, but surely ask myself about current situations.

    If it were not for what other people have, what they look like, how smart they are, blah, blah, blah... we'd be perfectly sane. :)

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    1. Nope,not fishing. Besides, you don't know my kids, so I'd hardly expect you to compliment me on them. You might not think of them so highly as I do. :-) But yes, I do love them more than anything.

      This is one of those posts where I try to get to the bottom of what I'm feeling at the time, and just hope it resonates with some others out there in the world. It's funny. I wrote it, posted it, and decided others would find it boring. I'm often wrong about which posts people respond to, and which they don't so much. It's always a surprise, which keeps me on my toes and makes the process fun and challenging.

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I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!