A Little Encouragement from My Future Self
My dog runs in his sleep.
His 50-pounds of long fur lie ruglike on my wood floor, with twitching ears and paws galloping in time with each other, and, if I listen carefully, I might hear a whisper of a bark. Sometimes I watch him, wondering what he’s running towards or from, if he’s chasing the neighbor’s cat or the mailman or running careful circles around a herd of make-believe cattle. Sometimes I wake him up patting him on the head and telling him “It’s OK” (I mean, because that’s what moms do), and he looks around with eyes that clearly recognize that he isn’t where he thought he was. The reason for running is out of sight.
I think sometimes I run in my sleep too.
My kids are just arriving into the thick of Teenagerhood, and I find I am more out of my depth than I imagined. I am comfortable with teenagers. I’ve taught them since I was one for the most part, so surely this stage of parenting–the Home Stretch of Parenting–will be the easiest.
So I have great kids. They drive me a little nuts sometimes, but they aren’t smoking or sneaking out or stealing anything. Not saying that day won’t arrive, but for now I’m feeling pretty blessed. But I often lie awake at night wondering if I’m doing the right things. Plenty of people would tell me I’m doing a great job while several would heartily disagree, but those aren’t the voices that matter.
Over the course of my parenting career, I’ve found myself staring at the ceiling at 2am with some regularity. I wonder if I handled one issue the right way or if their time is well invested. I think it’s normal for parents to question how they are doing. I remember when my son was about 2, and we faced some uncertainty as he wasn’t meeting some developmental markers for speech and had chronic ear infections. What is the best course of action? Who do I go to for help and answers? Well, the pediatric ENT and a speech-language pathologist for starters, but those decisions kept me awake at night for a healthy chunk of that time in his life. I remember looking back a few years later remembering how distraught I was in my pursuit of solutions and “fixing it.” In hindsight, I made lots of positive parenting choices. I also wish I’d done a thing or two differently. Mostly I reflect on the quality of the time I spent with my kids when they were younger because that’s what really mattered and made them into good young adults who have excellent intentions and generally decent follow-through.
Today I think about it a bit differently. Instead of running in my sleep, twitching away from the unknown or running circles around the elusive, I ask myself what Future Me would tell Present Me. I think she’d say something like this:
She’d say worry less–they will be fine. And if they aren’t fine, they will make their own choices and learn from those to become independent adults.
She’d tell me to run faster from people who aren’t helpful and Don’t. Look. Back.
She’d say it was right to support your kids in their dreams for their life even when you really didn’t understand or share them. Your job is to grow and encourage the kids you have, not the ones you thought about in fairy tales.
She’d say it’s good to let your kids see that you are overwhelmed, not completely sure, a smidge afraid, and that you feel lonely sometimes. It’s equally important that they see that there’s always a solution. Kids learn their reactions to hardship from what they observe. Give them a model to follow.
She’d say it’s OK to spend time with friends. Your kids aren’t missing out–they get to see that positive relationships are important and that you have them. Seeing positive people you can count on gives them a sense of confidence that you’re OK.
Be the best adult you can be and laugh at the rest. Your joy is too high a price to pay for things outside of your control. Emotional finance is a skill, and kids need to see it’s a discipline, just like managing your bank account.
She’d remind me that while your kids need you, mostly they want to see you happy, so be happy. Do things that make you happy and don’t do things that don’t make you happy.
Chin up girl! You’re doing a better job than you think.