A Parent in the Present

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“The past is a stepping-stone, not a millstone.” – Robert Plant

This past weekend, it was Mother's Day here in the U.S.

As I reflect over my time as a mother, if I were getting paid to be a parent, I would have been fired many times over.

It's one of those things I do where I don't ever seem to move off the launch point of the S Curve. If I do start feeling like I’m getting the hang of it, my children move to a different life stage, requiring a different parenting skill set and know-how, just to prove me wrong. Parenting is just plain hard.

Part of that is because our abilities are mixed up with earlier memories of our parents, who had no idea what they were doing either. We’re both urgent and clueless. Our desire not just to, “get it right”, but to do it perfectly, breeds self-sabotage. As in everything, parenting perfection is impossible to achieve. Getting it right is no walk in the park either.

It's emotional, confusing, and messy. We mostly know we could do a better job than we do. If we could just figure out how. We can be paralyzed by the terror that we will give our beloved offspring such a bad start in life that they will never recover from it. Years ago, I worked with a woman who joked that she and her husband didn’t have college funds for their children; they had therapy funds. When the kids reached 18, they’d get their money with parental wishes that they “Go, and get well.” As a university student at the time, I didn’t get the dark humor. Now I do.

Unlike jumping to a new professional S Curve—a new job, a new project, or a new whatever—where we can start with a clean slate and no one knows us. We know each other within our families. There are good things about shared history.

But getting a fresh start is a challenge. Remember all those times that I was a bad parent? I didn't go to the game or the event. I yelled. I didn't care enough, or maybe secretly, guiltily, I didn’t care at all about the crisis du jour. I just wanted a nap. Or…

Here's what I’m learning. The most forgiving people on the planet are our childrenThey just want us to try to do our best. For our sakes, as much as for theirs.

When we screw up, they want us to say we are sorry. They don't want us to focus on the parent we could have been in the past. It simply doesn't serve. They want us to be the parent they need this week, today!

So, let’s start with that. Today. This moment. When we are in the moment, we feel hope! The past, we will regret, whether, in part or whole, it’s inevitable. Don’t dwell on it. We can’t change it. But we can change now! Today, avoid micro-management, listen, pay attention, and say sorry when we don’t.

Whatever has transpired in the past, our children are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt that we are trying our best to be good parents today and in the future. When it comes to parenting, hope springs eternal, including the hopes our parents hold for us.

In our podcast, this week is Julie Lythcott-Haims––Author of Your Turn: How to be an Adult.

My best,
Whitney

P.S. Speaking of parents, I am going to surprise my mom this week (not really, because she's reading this!). She wrote a wonderful cookbook on cookies. If you live in the United States and are willing to write a review (5-stars, please), kindly reply to this email with your name and address. I will send a copy to the first 10 people who respond.

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