I figured this out late in life when I met The Kid.
I was in the Tim Horton’s drive through yesterday waiting patiently in line to get my customary morning hit of caffeine; a large double double. As I’m waiting there not quite awake, the CBC droning on about some conflict somewhere I will probably avoid and strumming my fingers on the steering wheel, I finally got to the ordering thing-a-ma-hooey and noticed the order amount for the person in front of me… fifty-three dollars, eighty-two cents. Who the hell spends fifty bucks in a drive through!?
I was getting upset at the person in front of me, the person in Tim Horton’s who was idiotic enough to accept an order of that size and the person behind me who suddenly seemed to be snuggling up a little close to my bumper. Really!? Other things began running through my head I could be upset about like its raining and I have to work outside or how the person two Tuesday’s ago cut in line in front of me or…
I started thinking about control.
How much control have I got? The only thing I have control over is me… and even that is suspect at times. Everyone (and every thing) else on the planet has control over themselves and nothing else. I can make myself crazy thinking I can control the behavior of another person. They might listen to what I have to say. They might not.
I remember when I was younger, and really not that many years ago, I would get upset at the actions of someone else at the drop of a chapeau. It took me a long time to realise that ninety-nine percent of the time, the person was not being malicious. They were doing the best they could with what they knew.
What do I know about parenting? I do know that having control over your kids is an illusion. You can teach them and you will never control them. They will still find a way to do what they want to do. (I was pretty damned good at figuring stuff out when I was a kid.) At some point, you have to trust you have taught your children well and cut them loose to make their own decisions.
It seems to me a parent has only two jobs.
One is a job for life and that is… be the person you want your kids to be. I remember hearing, “Do as I say, not as I do.” so many times when I was kid I think it became etched on my forehead. As I matured, I realized that old axiom is about the most idiotic thing anyone could say to their child. Children emulate their parents behaviour… period. You want your kid to be a good person? Be a good person. You want your kid to not waste their life partying? Don’t waste your life partying. You want your kid to have a better life than you had? Show them how to have a better life than you had. You want you kid to love the world? Love the world.
Kids are copy-cats. In their head, you are their hero and they will want to be exactly like their hero.
The second job is a life time job as well. Show up. Show up in your children’s life.
If they’re having difficulties… show up.
If they’re celebrating something… show up.
If you say you are going to be somewhere for your kid… show up.
If your kid is unable to handle a situation… show up.
If they want to travel the world... show up.
If they have made a mistaken decision you don’t like… show up. (And leave the attitude behind. It's not as if you haven't made some real bone-head decisions yourself!)
If you even have a hint they may need help… show up.
The concept is not that difficult to grasp. Show up in your kid’s life. Nothing else you will ever do will show them you love them more. Be a shoulder to lean on. Be their biggest cheerleader. Be their biggest fan. Your role when you took this job was to be there through everything. You decided to have kids. Not the other way around.
Step up and do the right thing for them. You connot control your kids (or anyone else) and you can be there for them while setting an example of the person you would like them to become. After that, it’s up to them.
In the end, there doesn't seem to be a point to getting upset with what others do or don't do. They're likely to do it anyway, with or without your permission. The only thing you can control is how you react. Showing up is a good start. Showing up with understanding and empathy is better.
Okay… I’m off my soapbox.
And I’m still waiting for the lady in front of me in the drive through… while a band of Sherpa load her trunk full of jelly donuts.