After the birth of my first child, I started working on a book with a friend that was loosely titled, “What You Didn’t Expect When you were Expecting.” I mean, things were going along so well,
The babies were born.
It was nothing like we expected. We were committed to a parenting marathon but had done absolutely no conditioning to prepare ourselves for the long haul.
Expect the Unexpected
Where were those Hallmark commercials we planned for? The flowing white night gowns and the smiling babies, cooing and giggling and hitting every developmental milestone right on cue?
Parenting, it turns out, is not for the faint of heart. It is a tough job with grueling hours and is so far below the minimum wage as to be laughable. There are lots of rewards, of course -- and they are hard won (and often short lived)!
The role of endurance in parenting is not to be under-estimated. The physical challenges of being a parent – sleeplessness, stress, carrying and lifting – are certainly enough to keep us fit, or age us exponentially.
But usually it's the emotional challenges that weigh us down and keep us up at night.
Wanting for Our Kids
We start off as parents with goals and dreams that have little to do with the other human being involved — our child — over whom we have absolutely no control. Influence, maybe, but no control. Oh, yeah — and that human being is constantly changing.
A key lesson for many of us is understanding what is and is not in our control, much like Mark Bertin talks about in his article about Redirecting without Judgment. This is truer in the case of our kids than almost anything else.
We WANT so much for our kids. In truth, sometimes “WANTING” is the only tool we have. We can’t control their health, or their height, or their gifts or passions. But we can WANT them to be successful, to do well in school, to make good friends, etc.
We expend a huge amount of energy as parents – particularly when our kids have complex needs – constantly re-evaluating what is best for our kids. We consider the options, and then we try to compare that to what we WANT for our kids. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do it, because the ability to respond to new circumstances is the mark of a responsive parent. But we do need to make sure that we take care of ourselves along the way, so that we don’t burn ourselves out.
So, how do we stay in it for the long haul?
Take a marathon-approach to parenting (otherwise known as the marathon view!). Once you recognize that this is an endurance game, these 10 steps will guide you on your path:
- Assume that there is lots to learn
- Learn what can be taught
- Prepare for whatever you can anticipate
- Expect the unexpected
- Be flexible on the journey
- Nourish yourself
- Focus on the present, not on the finish line
- Set short goals along the way
- Expect complications and trust that you’ll work through it
- Celebrate incremental successes
So, take some time to look at the big picture of your role as a parent. Where are you changing things up and finding the strength to endure, and where are you burning yourself out? Which of the 10 steps above really need your attention?
Are you ready for the parenting marathon? Get set. Continue…