We are inundated with so much information these days it’s hard to discern our own voices. Especially as parents. Do I parent too much or too little? Do I raise “free range kids” or do I keep them busy with activities to hopefully keep them out of trouble? Will they have the skills needed to be successful when they grow up? Should my ten year old already have a passion? (Or a nonprofit!?) Should my children be doing more to give back? If they aren’t playing in the highest divisions of competitive sports now do they stand a chance of making a high school team? Are they over scheduled? Do they eat enough vegetables? Too much sugar? Clearly it isn’t a healthy perspective but haven’t we all asked ourselves many of these questions? Is my kid smart enough, kind enough, courageous enough, talented enough, healthy enough, gritty enough, funny enough, tough enough? Our culture continues to push these expectations higher and higher and I wonder, is all this just an extension of a question I find I ask myself: Am I good enough?
All these questions and concerns are ones I have thought about again and again. But to what end? Most of us are trying to do the best we can and we are flying by the seat of our pants in our day-to-day parenting decisions. I’ve read a bunch of books, watched many documentaries, and follow some great parenting blogs with a variety of perspectives but I still don’t really know what the heck I’m doing. And I’m trying to tell myself that’s ok. We aren’t meant to control it all. Jeremiah 29:11 serves as a great reminder: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Sometimes it is so easy to forget that we don’t need to have it all figured out.
In all this worry and stress of trying to get it right, I think maybe we end up sending a wrong message to our kids that their value is measured externally rather than something that comes about intrinsically. I doubt many of us expect our son or daughter to be “the next big thing” – but our focus on trying to give them the best opportunities takes attention away from the real work our children should be doing… the work of developing a sense of self and nurturing their own mind, body and soul. Perhaps through seeking more balance in my life and theirs, moving forward in faith and allowing myself to be a parent who is not perfect but trying to be good enough, by my personal standards not the world’s standards, I will give my children the freedom to be good enough too, and to figure out just what that means to them.
A couple of weeks ago my son received a letter in the mail from his 5th grade teacher, who has a beautiful approach to teaching and who works hard to maintains a whole-child focus in her classroom. This final thoughtful gesture she shared with the kids in the first few weeks of summer exemplifies her understanding of the challenges our children (and their parents) face today. In the letter, she tucked a few small belongings my son had left behind and a small square of paper on which was typed this poem:
By Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.