What can you learn from your children today? Think about it.
Set aside all your parental and personal insecurities for a moment and consider what your children are teaching you as a human being.
When my youngest with special needs was five, she refused to go to school. Turned out, she was asking for help without knowing it. She needed us to understand she had some challenges in certain areas and deserved support. I learned, “It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to stop and regroup when something isn’t working. It’s okay to trust your instincts.”
After ten years of homeschooling, she is on the Dean’s List at her college and enjoying her life. She needed me, at five, to listen, and I needed, as a young mother, to trust the direction she was giving me.
In their teens, my children loudly expressed frustration if I considered using a plastic bag in the grocery or drank water from a disposable plastic bottle instead of using my own reusable container. I’d cringe and hate being corrected. However, they were right to object. I became a better person for listening to them.
Now that my children are nearly grown, I’m feeling less threatened by the lessons they send my way and becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea our children are here to teach us as much as we are here to teach them.
Case in point: My now 26-year-old daughter had a job interview a few weeks back. She was asked, “Name an accomplishment which makes you feel proud of yourself.”
She responded, “When I was little, we only took trips with grandparents and extended family members. These people were difficult, and I told myself, ‘When I’m older, I will take trips to these beautiful places and experience beautiful things on my own, without difficult people.’ I’ve accomplished this goal.”
Boy has she ever. My oldest daughter has traveled to Belize, Utah, Colorado, Alaska, the Gulf, the Atlantic coast, Washington State, and more. In each location, she pushed herself to experience all these areas have to offer in terms of good food, extreme living, and the most celebrated natural resources. If there’s a tallest mountain peak where she’s travelling, she will conquer it.
When she got back from Alaska a few weeks ago, she shared her backcountry camping experience in Denali National Park and Preserve for three days. This woman doesn’t avoid challenges.
Ten years ago, heck, even three years ago, if she described her job interview and answer to the accomplishment question, chances are good I would have felt like a terrible parent. It’s likely I would have found myself dwelling on the past family vacations when she was young. Instead of celebrating the person she has become, I’d get lost in a sea of self-abuse.
Here’s what’s happened instead. First off, she’s right. Instead of investing in vacations without difficult family members, I tended to rely on those vacations. Always nervous and uncomfortable about spending money on myself, I’d end up taking a trip with folks who were anything but relaxing.
And, for my part, I encouraged my daughter to travel with difficult family members, because I wasn’t able to afford to take her to places like Paris, when they had the means to do so.
Now, more than 15 years later, here’s what I’m learning from my daughter.
- Don’t put off doing the things you really value. There’s always a way to make important things happen. If there’s something you want to experience, don’t procrastinate. Take some action to show you’re committed to creating the experience you want. Maybe you dream of going to Paris. Then, put one dollar in a jar and start saving. Label it “Paris Fund.” Say out loud, “I want to go to Paris.” Then, take actions toward this goal.
- Get specific. Even if a trip to Paris seems unlikely today, start planning. Look up airfare. Look up hotel or hostel costs. If the figures seem overwhelming, step away. Remind yourself it’s okay if you have no idea how to make this goal a reality. Simply look at the figures and consider all the options to make your goal come true. Don’t rule any option out. What steps can you take to make it more affordable? Where can you find discount airline tickets?
- Don’t settle and allow yourself to be selfish. If you have a dream or experience you’re hoping to achieve, be cautious about who you invite to share. It’s okay if there are people you leave out of the plan.
Again, I ask you to consider what lessons your children are teaching YOU. I encourage you to listen for even the most cringeworthy lessons. None of us are perfect. We certainly aren’t perfect parents. But, maybe, with our children’s help, we can become better people.