Thursday, July 24, 2008

Becoming an Authentic Parent

My dad subscribes to a weekly reflection from the Henri Nouwen Society, and he forwarded the piece below. It arrived on a perfect day: Mike and I were feeling that we were failing in raising children who take personal responsibility and clean up after themselves. We felt that we were drowning in clutter and chaos.

It's helpful to read this message from someone who has gained perspective from raising children and seeing them out the door. I know that someday I will long for these days of clutter, chaos, and noise and desperately miss my children underfoot.

Another thing directing me back to PERSPECTIVE is the fact that a coworker of mine in Boise died earlier this week. She was 49 and died of a very aggressive cancer recurrence. She left behind two sons in their 20s who are now left bereft without her company. She was an amazing, positive, warm person, and she will truly be missed. Her death reminded me how important it is to cherish each moment of my blessed life.

On the Journey to Becoming an Authentic Parent

At some point early on in our journey of raising four children, a friend gave Stephanie and me a sign, which ended up on our fridge door. It read, "Children Grow Up to Be the Love They Have Known." I used to read that sign often, but I did not really understand what it was calling me to until the children were all grown up!

While the kids were at home, it was a daily challenge to keep up with the physical and emotional demands of parenting, and I often got lost in the practicalities of family life and trying to do the right thing. So often, doing the right thing from my perspective was doing the wrong thing from my kids' perspective! We read parenting books, tried to do things differently from our parents, made conscious choices to do this or not buy that, but nonetheless there were the typical family arguments, breakages, hurts and pains.

Now that our children are no longer at home and are finding their own way in the world, I realize that all the details that seemed so important at the time, that caused worry and dissension, are finally not so important. What the kids remember most, what shaped their lives most profoundly, were the family moments when they felt loved and safe and the apples of our eyes. Now when we play the game "Remember when . . . ," the things the kids talk about are the small but intimate times when we were a family, the times they knew they were loved.

- JOE VORSTERMANS is a husband and father of four adult children, director of Intercordia Canada, a university-level, engaged-learning program inspired by L'Arche (a faith community for disabled adults)

Thanks, Joe, for reminding me yet again that the memories we create with our kids and the love we share are far more important than how clean our house is, or how many educational enrichment activities they have, or whether others think our children are well behaved enough.

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