Facebook posts from parents increase this time of the year as they post about their kids heading off to a new year in school. Often it is a picture of a child going to school for the first time, or of a child being dropped off at college. The post usually remarks how time has flown. There is often some sadness mixed into the joy of the new adventure.
Whether watching your children board a bus for the first time, into a car for the first time, or moving into their first college dorm room, these are pivotal moments for parents. A parent reflects on the decisions to be made by the children when they are on their own.
Our children are a collection of our prayers and hopes. We hope they will be respectful stewards of our teachings, ready to take on whatever life presents them. This mixture of anticipation, anxiety, faith and pride is enough to overwhelm. As a father, I most want my kids to respect others, and in so doing, find happiness in helping others. It’s a simple wish in a challenging world.
The question is, can I assist my children in reaching that goal before Father Time steals my precious time and I, too, am posting a Facebook photo of them being left behind in a college dorm on the threshold of independent living?
As a single parent, I have to challenge myself to think creatively. Although my kids live in two homes, which brings some challenges, I propose we ALL are single parents, no matter the living arrangement.
We are pulled in so many different ways. Most of us juggle jobs, household duties, finances, homework, carpooling, cooking and much more. At any given moment in parenting, we may be alone with our child. In each of those moments, we are the single parent that represents the collective hopes for that child of the other parent (if there is one), the grandparents and the community. All care deeply about the wellbeing of the child and want him or her to succeed.
With busy schedules of student-athletes and parents, it is rare to see two parents together with one child during the daily grind. “Divide and conquer,” is the motto. Tag team and “Git R Done.” In fact, many times you witness a parent shopping with kids in tow, or preparing dinner, or cleaning the house. In those moments, the burden is that parent’s single-handedly. Whether a spouse is working, on the golf course, or with another child, you are the single parent for the moment with great responsibility.
When I was married with two children, I referred to my parenting as Man-to-Man Defense. When number three came along, I referred to my approach as Zone Defense, as I do to this day as a single father.
Sure, I have to stay on top of more daily household details, but it is not much different than heightening my game for more challenging competition. If I take time to reflect on all that I do, I find great joy in the challenges.
In the critically acclaimed movie, “Ray,” on the life of Ray Charles, the famous blind musician, he learned to adapt to the loss of his eyesight and still accomplished more than any of us will ever hope to accomplish in music. When the challenges of life are in our midst, they are opportunities to transcend the ordinary into the extraordinary.
M. Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled,” said it best: “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
Whether we are an overwhelmed co-parent, who at times has the parenting duties of two on our shoulders, or have full-time responsibilities, there are ways to lighten the burden.
The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” has great wisdom and application. One day about a month into my new home as a single parent, I walked into the family room to see that my kids literally created a tent city with almost every sheet and blanket in our home. It was then the proverb made sense. My family was my village. I could utilize them to help create our kingdom on earth.
The Wall Street Journal has an amazing article on the importance and benefits of kids helping with chores. I encourage you to read it. (See tinyurl.com/nf8arnc)
According to the article, giving children household chores helps to build responsibility, self-reliance, good relationships with family and friends, better ability to achieve academic and early career success, self-sufficiency and empathy. What that means to parents who feel they are single-handedly “doing it all” is their kids can help AND will benefit at the same time.
Yet, according to the same article, “82 percent (of parents surveyed) reported having regular chores growing up, but only 28 percent said that they (parents) require their own children to do them.”
Gather the kids, play “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles, and ask the kids to help share the load. Before you know it, you will be posting on Facebook a proud photo of a self-sufficient young adult making their parent proud.
(Jeff is an author, speaker and founding director of Pivotal Directions, Inc., a servant leadership program for youth. He belongs to All Saints Parish, Milwaukee, and has three wonderful children who attend Lumen Christi Catholic School in Mequon/Thiensville.)