Written by Lisa Endlich Heffernan
Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.
That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.
It is not my job to find my child's "passion." Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own. Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without discovering a "passion." I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am OK.
It is not my job to build my kids' self-esteem, but rather to give them the tools to earn it for themselves. Self-esteem results from setting challenging goals for ourselves and then accomplishing them. Sure, the recognition of others helps, but only if we know it to be genuine (and kids can see through this at a shockingly early age.) So I can encourage my kids to set themselves goals and to stick with them, but I cannot bestow self-esteem upon them; they will have to earn it for themselves.
It is not my job to be my kids' companion. I love being with my kids, and since they entered adolescence, I suspect I love being with them a whole lot more than they love being with me. When they were small they would demand my attention and I felt that I failed them when I didn't keep them company or play with them as they wished. In doing that, I took on a job that was not mine. Kids need their parents for love, comfort and guidance... "playmate on demand" is simply not in the job description. It helps to remember that the happiest people are those content with their own company.
It is not my job to make my kids happy. I am pretty sure if I could have figured out the key to happiness, I would have sold it and funded their tuition. My notion of happiness is not static and it has evolved over my life. I know that getting what you think you want does not always lead to happiness. I know that money can buy peace of mind, a sense of security and freedom from certain hardships, but it cannot touch happiness. I know that true happiness is looking at the world through your own lens, not the one handed to you by others, even your parents. And as the mom of three I know that happiness is so different for each child that even if I had the power to bestow it, which I certainly do not, it would consume my every waking minute repackaging it three times over. Finding happiness has been a lifelong, and not always successful, journey; I really don't have the runway to find it for four people. So my kids are going to have to do what I and every other person did, and find it on their own.
My job was to model and teach impulse control and deferred gratification. None of us can always get what we want. The Stones taught me that, and it is my job to pass this along to my kids.
My job was to give my sons relationships that would last a lifetime, people who they could turn to in need. That is what family and close friends are for. But far more than teaching that people will always be there for them, I hope I have taught them to be there for those they love.
My job was to teach them right from wrong in a world that may well contradict my message.
My job was to make sure that my kids launched into the world as well-educated and well-prepared as they could be.
My job was to make them flexible and unencumbered by the past, prepared for a world I have not seen.
My job was to teach them that quitting is sometimes, but rarely, the answer. We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don't love.
Being a parent calls on every physical, intellectual and emotional resource we have. It is a long, complex process, and I, for one, made it a whole lot harder than it needed to be. As parents, we pondered how our own parents had it so much easier, how life was simpler and they found raising us far less challenging. We hear this question often and assume it was because we were raised in simpler times that demanded far less of parents. But maybe it is otherwise. Maybe our parents had a better sense of what was possible for parents to achieve. Maybe they knew what was their job and what, as children, was ours.