Working Assets as a Parent

I think often about parenting. It is not something I sit down and contemplate quietly. Nor do I read about it and keep a journal. I hardly ever have quiet moments when I can afford the time to examine and internalize my own parenting, best practices of others, or even the impact I have had on my three children.

But nonetheless, in the tiny spaces between work projects, working out, cooking, social engagements, and the other matters of my life, I find myself ruminating on and wondering: how am I doing as a parent? What choices have I made or do I make that really matter?

See, the thing is, I am sure that I, and my colleagues and friends around the world, will die someday, and the organizations and governments we lead will carry on in one form or another in the hands of our children—mine and yours.

I worry: have we prepared them for it?  Will they be okay?  There are so many things I am sure I have done wrong….

  • Too much sugar
  • Not enough discipline
  • Helicoptering them when they were young
  • Unsupervised television when I had work to do
  • Too much nagging

But lately I am pondering instead the occasional things that I may have done right, if my kids themselves are any testimony to my occasional accidental success.  These include:

1. Being honest about my mistakes, my shame, and my weakness

I am not and never have been perfect, so when I mess up, I own it. From failing in my marriage to their Dad to forgetting to pick them up, I have blown it big time, and it matters that I don’t pretend that I didn’t blow it.

2. Encouraging them to struggle and prevail to find words for their emotions and to say them out loud

It is hard to name and express feelings, but most important things that happen to us have to do, at their very core, with feelings, so finding a language for them is a survival skill. If we don’t feel the hard things (pain and loss, regret and grief) we also won’t feel the good stuff (love and tenderness, joy and elation).

3. Emphasizing that love matters and conquers an awful lot

And with love comes grace, forgiveness and acceptance. In love, we give to another for the purpose of helping that person live their best life. Enough said.

4. Comforting them when they were weak and pushing them when they doubted their own capacity

It has hurt at times to see them suffer (whether a skinned knee or a ruptured spleen) and I have unabashedly been there to hold and care. But I also have stayed upright when they needed reminding that they could do that hard thing, when they had to dig deep to prevail, and when adversity and turmoil was theirs not mine.

5. Working, and letting them know why my work sometimes meant they were not always THE MOST IMPORTANT, at every moment

I have had to choose to miss countless Mother’s Day teas and high school concerts despite my heartfelt desire to be there, but I have tried to do so with grace and honesty, so that they knew that whatever it was that pulled me away from them mattered.

6. Carrying my weight financially

It has mattered to our quality of life that I contribute economically which connects to #5. My children will have to work to meet their basic needs (food, shelter, warmth) and I have tried to show them that hard work energizes and feeds our soul.

7. Discussing privilege, not so they would feel guilt, but rather to help them use theirs with grace

Being born white, middle class, in the USA was not their choice, but it gives them advantages that are not earned. Simply recognizing that with them (my privilege and theirs) has offered humility and empathy for others.

8. Laughing, dancing, and singing even off key

Spontaneous outbursts of random rhythm and celebration almost always feel good. It is the act of laughing, dancing, and singing that creates the feeling of joy and celebration, not the perfection of doing it perfectly. To my amazement, all three of my kids have talent despite me.

9. Loving our home and also leaving it

Taking them out of their town, away from their home, their friends and their routines to far off villages has shown them that the bigger world is theirs. In this larger global context, politics and economics differ, skin color is much more diverse, and my kids are not always comfortable, which I hope has helped them internalize a sense that they are part of something bigger, not the center of a narrow world.

10. Trusting that I wasn’t the only person, as their Mom, who mattered

It has taken a complex web of people—their Dad, their grandmother, nannies, daycare, teachers, camps, counselors, step-families, friends, bosses, and mentors to help each of them learn who they really are in their world. The reflection they get back through my eyes, that of their mother, is just one view, and they need and benefit from the view of so many other people.

On those rare times when I can stand on the balcony and actually consider quietly the type of parent I have been, I usually notice the mistakes and shameful acts that make me cringe at my own imperfection. Nonetheless, to my utter astonishment, my three amazing children, now mostly grown, are in the world—contributing, loving, learning, exploring and making music. Maybe it is one or all of these 10 accidental gifts. Or maybe, if I die tomorrow in a quiet passing or a fiery crash, the headstone really could say simply:

She was a Mom. She showed up and loved us.

Jim Morris