Paragraph four on page seventy-two of My Mothers Footprints: A Story of Faith, Calm, Courage, Patience and Grace states, " As children hit those uncertain and often tumultuous teenage years, all we can really do is be a guide, listen openly, set clear and firm boundaries and love them unconditionally. Children are not given to us to meet or exceed our expectations, they are brought into the world to live out the journey God has intended for them, and we are blessed as parents to be a part of that process." The statement was reaffirmed for me this weekend as we visited Allen-Michael on his college campus.
The one thing that has become abundantly clear to me in my quarter century of parenting is this: It ain't your journey; it's theirs. If you are like many parents you have some wonderful, grandiose, idyllic life fantasy for your offspring, but it is doubtful your plan will become a reality. Sometimes the reality is better than any dream you could have imagined; sometimes the course your child's life takes isn't at all what you "dreamed" it would be. Either way, in my opinion, the healthiest perspective to hold as you raise your children is this...an open-mind will serve you well.
This fantasy I speak of starts the minute you know they are coming. Once they arrive, the dream is a reality and the hurdles begin. For some parents, those dreams take a beating right away if their child is born with physical or mental challenges they weren't anticipating. For others, the dream may actually persevere, even become more vivid, well into adolescence. The teen years tend to initiate the child's separation from parents and venturing towards their own path. This doesn't mean you can't have a very opinionated seven-year-old, rather the course their lives begin to take, with increasing momentum, hits about the time puberty begins. This is a fact which can be overwhelming and frightening when you realize the brain doesn't fully mature until the mid-20s and kids tend to think they are invincible. Yet for many parents, until that time, and occasionally even into their 20s, their dream and vision are kept alive.
That being said, I think the best way to tackle parenting when expectations meet reality is to remember our primary role: guide. For me the best way to do that is to listen. To show respect and expect it in return, to set and stand firm in the rules and boundaries our family tries to exemplify, and to be open-minded to what your child is thinking.
Personal example: Allen-Michael is exploring a different path for his junior year in college. It is not one we would have considered for him, but we trust in his judgment and know that this is not our life, but his. It may or may not come to fruition. But, while in the process of gathering information our best strategy is to listen, offer our thoughts from the perspective of one that has walked a similar path, and then let him know we support any decision he makes. And, if things don't turn out quite the way he envisioned, we will be there to listen and offer support again. No matter where he lands and what path his life takes he is loved, encouraged, and supported where he is at.
Although it may sound odd, I look at myself as a human conduit. My children were brought into the world [literally] through me, entrusted to me (and Tom of course) to care for; included in that are their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. This can only be done to the best of our ability. Then it is time to watch and wait for what will take shape, offering support and guidance (not the same as advice) in the process. And I'll tell you from experiencing my first two kids grow into adults, it is an amazing and unpredictable transformation to see your child come into his own!
Things have not always turned out as I would have liked, and they have taken twists I could never have predicted, but I wouldn't trade the journey for anything! And I will tell you, the most amazing things have come about once I let go of my expectations!