Parenting is an imperfect science in which we are constantly trying to replicate our own parents’ successes and fix their mistakes, only to make our own. And while each family has to make decisions about how they gauge what their children are exposed to, we should do so with the knowledge that we won’t be able to protect them forever and teachable moments can be had even as we snuggle in front of the television with our kiddos.
Thriving is not achieved through the relentless pursuit of success. It is achieved through time and the freedom to explore. It is achieved through emotional and financial security. It is achieved through support and nurture. We know this and yet it is still one of the most difficult parenting pursuits for Americans. Some of us face very real roadblocks which need to be removed by changed policy. Some of us are so focused on our missed opportunities that we struggle to see how our desire to make sure our kids also don’t miss out might be impacting our kids. Some of us just don’t understand the systemic pressures that are weighing down our adolescents because that pressure just wasn’t there when we were kids.
I believe there are important lessons in having our kids play but not making it the central focus of their lives or the lives of the entire family. We still need to make space for family vacations, summer jobs, worship, academics, and yes, general leisure. I believe that one of the reasons that we struggled so much as a society when everything initially shut down due to COVID-19 was that we had been running ourselves ragged, and nowhere was this more true than in our overscheduled family lives.
A regular scroll through my Facebook or Instagram accounts makes it seem like this is easy for us, but detaching from electronics and work and the outside world and forcing our kids (and us) into nature takes real effort. There are some weekends when I just want to hunker down inside and knock things off of my work and home to-do lists. There are days when I argue that it is too hot or too cold or too wet for us to face the elements. But I refuse to believe that our children have to grow up in the countryside to appreciate the world around them. We just have to make sure they are given the opportunities to see past the concrete.
I have to consistently remember that my kids have to be allowed to be their own selves. I know this as they will eventually attend the same school I teach at. I know this as I pursue my own writing. I know this as someone who spent most of her adolescence struggling with finding my own identity separate from my dad’s position. Our children don’t get to choose the childhood we’ve given them. Let’s at least give them the freedom to find their way through that childhood.
But even in those moments I have to remember to check my response to their behavior. In those moments we have to ask each other for forgiveness, them for their behavior and me for the level of my reaction to that behavior. I want them to learn that anger can be good and justified, but how we express that anger needs to be appropriate to the situation and not be the cause of hurt to those we love. I want them to learn the importance of looking at the whole picture (something I’m constantly learning as well) and considering how their actions and reactions affect those around them. I want them to learn the value of offering grace even when that grace does not appear to be deserved.