“Now that I am an adult, I can share these things with you.” Ugh, like a punch in the gut! Had my daughter really just said that? An adult? Really? When did this happen? This year had been like a one-two punch. First, my daughter turned 20. (How could I possibly have a daughter in her 20s?) If that was not enough, my youngest, today, began his last semester in high school. Like a puff of smoke, the years had evaporated before my eyes. Now 18, no longer that little boy nervously beginning his first year of kindergarten, a 6-foot man with a beard now stood before me, and I simply wondered, “Where did the time go?”
I thought back over the years—so many things had happened, so many memories, so many joys, so many sorrows, so many opportunities, and yes, even some regrets. Being a parent has been the greatest journey of my life, and at the same time, the most challenging. As a young man, young dad, and young husband, so many things seemed important at the time: my image as a parent, what others thought of my children, providing for every need and want of the family, sports, grades, building a successful career, securing our future, making sure my children were ____________ (fill in the blank with any number of nouns or adjectives). None of these things were necessarily bad. In fact, many were good, but as I look back now, I sometimes wonder: Did I really see and focus on what was most important during those times?
As a young parent, I put way more pressure on myself and my children than was ever really needed. If you are a parent, you have probably experienced a day like this: up early, rushed out the door, running from place to place, errand to errand, desperately trying to cram everything in, becoming flustered and frustrated with unexpected issues (often brought on by the children we have in tow), no time to stop, no time to breathe. We come screeching into the house each night, cram down dinner, homework, projects, sports, baths, and then a crazy bedtime, only to drop into bed that night and awake the next morning to do it all again. So worried about every grade, every event, sports, the next project, work, and so many other “important” items, that we succeed only in stressing everyone out and robbing the joy that could have been experienced in that moment.
As parents, it is easy to let the busyness of the world, and our ideas and impressions of what is important, cause us to lose focus of all that is truly important and miss those magical and special moments right before us. We allow business, frustrations, and even “wishes” of how things could be different to cloud what really is special and memorable right before us, and that is something we cannot afford to let happen.
Today, there seem to be so many pressures on families and kids—grades, sports, status, activity, plus so much more, and while these have their place, sometimes we overdo it. Many times, I wish I could sit my younger self down and have a quick, five-minute conversation with him, and share a few things these last 20 years have taught me. If given the chance, I would simply remind him:
1.) Don’t sweat the small stuff (it really is not as important as you think). Many of the things we focus on are not, even if they seem like it at the time.
2.) Don’t be embarrassed by things your children do (because when they are teenagers, you can embarrass them—plus, who cares what others think?).
3.) Don’t be too busy for the important things. I can promise you that work or opportunity will always be there—but they will not.
4.) Take more time to listen and hear your children. Sometimes, we charge into a situation and fail to listen. Almost always, that blows things up and makes a much bigger mess.
5.) Treasure the stage your children are in. It is easy to wish for what is coming next, but take time and treasure each moment. These times won’t come again.
6.) Be their greatest cheerleader, and believe in them, even when they do not believe in themselves. See and encourage their uniqueness—and help them see God’s special plan for their lives.
7.) Keep activity in perspective—grades, sports, accomplishments are great, but not at the cost of relationship.
8.) Not everything needs to be a battle. Decide if this is a hill you need to die on—it may surprise you how often it is not.
9.) Don’t let the little things annoy you; if anything, let them be things you laugh at. You will miss the things that annoy you the most, for often they are part of the sweet music that makes up your family.
10.) Maybe that frustration really isn’t as big as you think—most of the time, you won’t remember it in a few years anyway.
Recently, I sat watching a young couple with three small children as I waited to get assistance with setting up my new iPhone (yes, I am one of those dinosaurs who still needs help at times with technology). The couple was rushed and trying to do 50 things that day, and the children, clearly tired of being there, were restless, noisy, and maybe even a little cranky (but honestly, aren’t we all in that situation?).
I could see the mom was getting flustered, and even embarrassed by her children, probably wishing that any number of things were different about this situation, including her children’s age and behavior. As I sat there watching, I could not help but think back on those days and moments when my children were so young. Yes, I would have been that “frustrated parent” given the same circumstances, but now, almost 20 years later, I am seeing things a little differently than I did those many years ago.
She apologized, and I looked at her and simply said, “It’s OK, they are fine. I used to be an elementary principal, and sometimes, I miss those sweet sounds.” As relief washed over her face, I smiled, thinking back on those times with my kids, wishing for one more moment of them cradled in my arms, missing those moments that would not come again, yet thankful for the ones right before me.
Mom and Dad, your kids will make it. They will get there—whether they have straight A’s or not, whether they play every sport or not—they and you will make it. How they get there, though, will depend greatly on you and what you show them is truly important. Enjoy the moments before you; don’t stress and pressure yourself and your children. Yes, encourage them to great things and to do their best, but keep it in perspective. Stop and take time to see what really is important before you. I promise, you won’t regret it. Treasure these times, for they are more special than you know, and they will not come again.
This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.