Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The ToolBox - Fill the Box Now, Be Their Friend Later

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.” 
― Anne Frank

I would love it if I could give my kids everything they wanted...

But I can't. 

Even if I could, I wouldn't. My conscience, my judgement, my heart, and my parental responsibility would not let me. 

I would love to be my children's best friend...

But I can't.

Even if I could, I wouldn't. That is not my role. At least it's not my role while they are minor children, under my care, still maturing and growing to adulthood.  I guess I could have taken the role of friend instead of parent, but my conscience, my judgment, my heart, and my parental responsibility would not let me. 

I would have loved to make every path clear, every job easy, every relationship without trouble, every class fun, every game winnable, every action rewardable.... 

But I can't.

Even if I could, I wouldn't.  That may have been in some way possible, but not at all realistic or representative of what life is.  I could shelter them, fight every battle, and make their existence nothing but easy and fun, but my conscience, my judgment, my heart, and my parental responsibility would not let me. 

In the short term, eliminating any wants or obstacles in your children's lives may seem like an expression of love and caring.  It may seem to you that it is a way of taking care of and protecting them.  To make a path easy for them gets them further along the road.  Giving them what they want fulfills their desires for things.  Being a friend instead of holding then accountable and towing the line might feel like it's creating connection.  

The truth: That is the easy road for you. It also creates a tougher road for them when they are out in the world. 

Your job, my job, our job is to be parents and to ready them for the world.  A parent's job is to fill their child's toolbox with the tools they will need to be in it successfully. 

As a grown-up you know that the world is nothing like living at mom and dad's house with them taking care of the necessities of life.  It can be a great place, but it is not always an easy place.  It takes hard work, tenacity, willingness to stretch yourself, understanding and ability to cope with failures along with the successes, and knowing that things don't always go the way you want them to.  You have to problem solve, get along with people you don't always like, sometimes work in situations that are less than what you would like them to be, and earn your successes.  

As parent, it is your job to balance your care and protection with preparing your children for the world- a world that is not going to coddle them.  To do that, they need a toolbox stocked with the tools that will help them build a life in a world that looks very different from mom and dad's house. 

The world will hold them accountable and responsible for their actions. Give them this tool by holding them accountable and responsible for their actions and words. 

The world will not reward them for simply stepping into it.  They will fail at things in life as adults.  Prepare them with the tools for it by letting them fail at things sometimes. It is hard not to save them from it when you can, but the short term benefit of a better feeling in the moment becomes a long term obstacle when they don't know how to accept, learn from, and recover from it in the world. 

The world will not give the everything they want. Just like the rest of us, there will be some things that they get, some things they will have to work for, and some things that just never may come. Give them the tool of having joy with what's in front of them, and the ability to find happiness even when they don't have their every wish fulfilled. Don't grant every "want".  Give them everything they need, and some of what they want - but not everything. Give them the tool of knowing the difference between a need and a want by understanding the difference yourself. 

They will need to learn empathy, sympathy, the ability to feel joy and sadness, how to live a healthy lifestyle, and understanding of money and responsible use of it, self respect, respect for others, determination, tenacity, will, drive, how to rest, how to love... the list of tools goes on and on.  It is parent responsibility to send them into the world with a full tool box. 

It's not an easy job, but you are the best and most influential person for the job. When you are weary and feeling like the "bad guy", just recite this to yourself: Today I know that Parenting is a tiring job but a worthy one. Our duty is to give them the tools they need to be in the world. It is their job to open the tool box and use them.

Be their parent now.  Your reward of being their friend will come.