My children are grown-ups now, but I can still remember the feeling of holding my wee babies (yes -twins) and realizing I was responsible for them and to them – yikes!
Beyond diaper changes and food choices, I was a parent and hoped to raise these wee babies (along with their brother in years to come) into caring, thoughtful, kind and responsible future world citizens.
Would I be enough – in every sense of the word? How will I navigate rough waters?
Where Are You Going?
As it is prime summertime, “where are you going?” is a question that you may find yourself asking or answering while chatting with friends, family or perhaps even the cashier at the grocery store. With summer comes the plans for special outings, travel, and/or visiting family and friends.
I expect the two questions “where are you going?” and the related “what are you doing?” are common small-talk questions. Many of us have been looking forward to our summer adventures for months. Dreaming about where we plan to go, who we plan to see, and how we hope to feel during and afterwards.
These activities are particularly important, especially after the many required periods of sheltering, playing, learning, and living at home. My dreams include camping, Lake Superior, swimming with my nieces and nephews, connection and laughter.
Adventures as a Parent
What about your adventure as a parent? Where are you going? Have you taken the time to really sit and dream
about your parenting destination? Are there particular things you want to share with your kids?
A wise parent educator (thank you Susan) once asked a group of us to imagine our kids at 18 years old. How do we want to describe them?
Such a simple question, and yet such a big impact on me and my co-parent.
I invite you to take a moment and imagine your kids all grown up, 18 years of age. Legally adults.
What do you hope to say about each of them? If you have more than one child, where do you see differences? Where do you see similarities? How might your values as a family shape your parenting destination? How might your kids’ strengths also shape your destination?
Sometimes, in chatting with parents, I will refer to this “18-year-old destination” as the “north star”. The north star is also known as Polaris, Nuutuittuq, Keewatin or Ekakatchet Atchakos. By whichever name one uses – what sets it apart – is that it appears stable and unmoving in the sky.
Explorers of all kinds, from Indigenous folks, to the underground railroad as well as sailors crossing the vast oceans all used the guidance of the north star on their journeys.
Each family’s north star will be unique to that family. Having a clear idea of your own values will help you define your own, and your family’s, north star. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility offers 5 questions to help folks discover their values:
- Deep down, what matters to me?
- What relationships do I want to build?
- What do I want my life to be about?
- During which activities do I feel most alive?
- If all my stresses were gone, what would my life look like? What new things would I pursue?
Naming Your Values
Clarifying and naming your values is the first step to living them. Brene Brown, author of Dare to Lead offers a downloadable list of values that you may want to read through for inspiration.
Your north star can serve to remind you of the goals you have set as a parent. Daily decisions – and there are lots of them – can be viewed as being in (or out of) alignment with your parenting north-star-vision.
For example, a family who envisions their adult children as capable of managing their money, may choose to give each child an allowance. Out of that allowance the child may be expected to purchase school lunches, dance admissions, birthday party gifts, put some into savings and give some to charity. When that young person overspends and has no money for this week’s pizza lunch, your “north star” comes into play.
How Will You Respond?
There is no “right way”. You may choose to be empathetic that your kiddo wants pizza this week, but since they have already spent their money, you may offer to help them budget better next week. You may choose to help them do a job for a neighbour and earn the extra money. You may choose to pay for the pizza this week, due to the circumstances in your family life.
The key here is choosing with awareness. Every decision you make as a parent is a tiny step towards the adult at 18 years of age. Will it be a step towards the adult you hope to graduate from your home or away from it?
Is It Too Early to Start?
If you are currently parenting a toddler, you may think it is too early to put any of this into practice, but I would offer it is not. Part of my parenting vision was adult kids who would be responsible for their mistakes, take ownership and do what they could to make it right. I had NO idea how to do this at first, and then, influenced by Barbara Coloroso, I realized it started with the little things.
Oops you spilled your water! What do you need to clean that up? As soon as kids can walk and talk, they can take some age-appropriate steps to be responsible for their actions. This can be as simple as cleaning up their spilled drinks. Getting out the rags or paper towels, wiping up the floor and then putting the soiled rag into the laundry.
A few tiny steps that you can continue to build on as a parent.
Working With Your North Star
Sometimes, along the road of life, you will encounter big or tough decisions that may put your values at odds. This past spring, I wrestled with the decision to support my youngest to participate in an international event taking place outside of the country versus the continued implications of the pandemic.
My values around adventure and active participation in school community were at odds with the health and wellness of our family members, my professional identity as a healthcare worker and our greater community. Not easy stuff.
Other times you may choose tiny things that over time will shape the adults your children will become. One of my “buttons”, or sensitivities is to entitlement – in adults or children – it’s just one of those things that really sets me off.
As a kid, I was close to my great-grandparents who lived in the depression-era, and perhaps because of that, I wanted my own kids to appreciate what they have.
One way to combat entitlement is with the practice of gratitude. This could be a daily practice at dinner time every night…taking a few minutes to say what you are grateful for in this moment. A wee practice with big results.
It’s a Windy Road
Big decisions, small decisions, know that that there is no road map. Parenting is challenging at the best of times, and these past few years have created so many new challenges and opportunities.
Be kind to yourself. There will be days your north star will feel clouded over and invisible. Take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and repeat. Feel your feet on the floor. Do something for yourself. A cup of tea, a bike ride, a chat with a friend.