Yesterday I posted this photo on my Facebook page:
It was seen and shared over 2,000 times. Apparently it struck a nerve.
I take no credit for the sentiment -- that would go to Dr. Bill Cosby, comedian and philosopher extraordinaire. I do know, however, that no truer words about parenting have ever been spoken.
There is no right way to raise your children. There is no hard and fast rule about what will work in your home, with your particular family, your child's unique personality, the circumstances you are in, the luck or challenges that come your way. All the money in the world can't fix a serious problem. No matter how little you have materially, you can raise an excellent human being if all else falls into place. Consistently teaching your values will usually result in your children having the same values... but not always. Because above and beyond everything else, our children come to us with inherent qualities that we cannot special order, request, or cross off a list as undesirable.
I never imagined a daughter who would forsake Barbie dolls and coloring books in favor of softball and singing -- though in retrospect, I'm so glad she did.
I never imagined a son who would be passionately invested in sports, playing them, studying them and watching them -- oh wait, I think I did.
You see? You never know. Not that these are monumental issues -- in fact, they aren't issues at all, just who my children are.
Remember when your children were little -- pre-school little -- and there was that one child in the classroom who would misbehave far more than the others? Remember how you were sort of smug, maybe a little judgey, thinking to yourself "my child would never do those things?"
Ok, maybe you didn't do that, but I did. A few times. Not a lot.
Well haha. You didn't know, did you. You had no idea what might happen, how your child might cause you grief, or disappoint you, or make you red-faced with anger. No, none of us knew, when our children were little, what the future would bring to us.
It can be tempting to look at others whose children give them sleepless nights and angst-filled days and think you'd know how to fix things. Don't. Because you don't know, can never know, what it's like to raise that particular person to adulthood. You can never comprehend the personality conflicts between a parent and child, a mother and son, a father and daughter.
I've never read a parenting how-to book. There are times when I need advice and guidance, but I can't imagine how a stranger could help me with my particular child. Instead I ask the people who know and love my children for their input, and my husband and I talk... and talk... and come up with our own solutions. That works for us. Usually. Sometimes there are problems that just need time, not intervention.
The one and only rule that I believe would apply to nearly any child is this:
Children learn what they live.
We can only do the best we can, with love and attention and words of wisdom shared and, hopefully, heard.
Ultimately, the one thing those who aren't parents can't understand about being a parent is this: the deep, heartbreaking and breathtaking love that changes you forever when your child is born. This is what makes parenting an art, not a science. This is what makes it a complicated, overwhelming, and fantastic experience. This love.
Follow Sharon Greenthal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sharongreenthal