The End Is the Start

The end of 2013 and the start of 2014: they are only dates, only points in time. But tradition and annual repetition have led us to declare such points important.

We make a lot out of beginnings and endings.  Rightly so, as man is the meaning-making animal. Through such rituals as New Year’s Eve ceremonies and the making of resolutions, we teach — directly and indirectly — our children to create meaning themselves.  Sometimes we forget they are also tuned into what we are teaching — or put more accurately, they are always learning from what we are doing, whether we know we are teaching or not.

May 2014 be a year in which our children learn joy, optimism, and how to make meaning that is uplifting, saving, and powerful.  That would be a dynamic beginning.

Life As It Happens

The back deck: as the birds feed, three high school seniors sit at their desks, as Dad reads a novel. Their work: Spanish, math, English, economics, much more. The birds’ work: eating, eyes out for predators. Dad’s work: bad jokes, quiet worry over college tuition, dinner preparation.

Or, better put: this all is as it should be. Triplets? Three college tuitions? Predators: limited time and money? Mom works over the family budget….Time to fix the vegetarian burritos. The bird feeders are full and the bluebirds have their mealworms.

As the onions are sliced, a daughter sings her way down the stairs in her sweet high soprano voice. Nothing in the world could be arranged more fittingly — or more beautifully.

“Peace” of Advice

Raising children involves stress and strain as well as joy and exhilaration. With our good intentions, we often micro-manage our child’s every movement and action — correcting, responding, and redirecting. All too often, a “No” comes forth far more frequently than a “Yes.”  Or the “Good Job!” cliche accompanies a simple action that scarcely needs a response, which only rewards the trivial.

Try letting a few more of those little actions go by without comment or conflict. Let a smile suffice for something small that is well done. And a child doesn’t have to see a mean-spirited grimace to know she did something inappropriate. A deep-rooted peace in the household can come about from parents who know what conflicts to tackle and which to let fade in the breeze.

You may be amazed at how “natural” you and your child will feel over time, as you let the minor things – good or bad — take a back seat so the truly significant occupies your energy.

Thought: In autumn, watch the trees — the leaves fall when they need, whether the wind is light or large.  Spring always returns and renews.

Confronting Change

When a child goes off to school, some part of his parent goes happily along with him — while another part is saddened about the separation. Whether eight or eighteen, our children always seem to belong at home with us, at our side — even though we know the right thing is raising them to be independent.

A child goes through many seasons of life with us — but sometimes without us. When she grows an inch taller, or grows more toward her friends than toward us, or when she leaves home for college, we mourn the loss of innocence, grieve for the absence.

But we also discover that our children have created another kind of new life within us, something permanent and, in a unique way, unchangeable. When it comes to our children, change is a dynamic that empties us out and fills us up, that frightens us as it generates joy. Thank goodness we are — usually — equipped to handle the wild ride with love and grace.

We Learn, Therefore We Are

How do we raise our children well in a complex time, when parenting books are so plentiful we choke on their advice? How do we teach our children about the world, when that world seems to be a thick forest of confusion and conflicting paths?

Perhaps: we simplify. We listen more closely to our instincts. We strive to worry less. We put more trust in ourselves – and in our children.

Yes, we are busy, jostled, overloaded, stressed, and anxious. But is that the lifestyle and the mindset we want to teach our children? There is no simple plan to simplify, no quick way to gear down and relax and watch the clouds for hours. Yet we can ask ourselves what it is we truly want our children to learn, versus what we as parents and teachers are inadvertently teaching them.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “You never step in the same river twice,” because change is perpetual, and everything keeps moving on. A child is a wondrous flower taking new form every day. We need to nurture, care for, love, and teach our children. But we are trying too hard to control and direct and protect every moment of our child’s life. That’s not how a healthy flower thrives. Nor is it how the river flows.