The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust, A Remembrance of Things Past, 1913–1927
I make no promises that this reflection will be helpful for those currently knee-deep in parenting.
Successful parenting is a moving target. Nothing in life is static and neither is raising children. At the beginning goals may include keeping your child alive, but over time it morphs into various ideas of success. Years pass, and goals move. We want polite kids, nice kids, kids who do well in school, or kids who go to college. Maybe we imagined them married or in a career one day.
But life events happen and we see that those were our goals.
The other day I told my friend I have learned to see success differently over the years. And I think about that when I see and hear what people hope for their own kids. My comment about success not being what I used to think of it as was followed by my friend commenting that success may be just raising kind people. And I couldn’t help thinking that wasn’t exactly it. I realized that whatever success we imagine is our idea of success. Of course we want our kids to grow up sharing our values. And doesn’t every parent love their child and hope they will be their version of good? I’ve just realized that my idea of good or my values may turn out not to be theirs. All this time we spend parenting, we are measuring success by our standards of success.
An example is a time when my youngest was in grade school. Maybe junior high. That same friend I mentioned before was babysitting Katie for me. Later she told me that she tried to buy Katie McDonald’s for breakfast and Katie said she couldn’t eat McDonald’s. She said she bought her the same food but paid more fr it at Starbucks. In terms of success, a parent might find this successful because she stood up for a family value we instilled in her to be mindful about food. You could say this was a failure because she should have been a better guest and taken what was given to her. But after more reflection, I realize our kids spend of lot time as children seeing themselves and their world through our eyes. Perhaps, Katie would have loved McDonald’s but decided my disapproval wasn’t worth it. Perhaps there was no success or failure, she just judged that my friend’s disapproval was not as bad as mine. And now, as she heads off to college, she will actually decide on her own if she wants to eat McDonald’s.
We have a lot of ideas early on about who our kids will and will not become. The other day, I saw a social media posting with a photo of a toddler with a caption about their potential future love interest. Again I was reminded we have expectations of our kids lives way before we even know who they are. Way before they know who they are. These things aren’t terrible, it’s part of procreation and the nurturing process. This is how we love them, dreaming and hoping for their future. But in the Bhagavad Gita, there is a part about Karma Yoga that sticks with me. It says not to be motivated by the fruits of your actions but focus on your action without attachment to the results. This is so hard for a goal oriented person like myself. I am all about results. But now I see the wisdom in this for parenting. My kids version of success may not include world travel, marriage or even their own children. They may be happy with whatever form of relationships they make. Or five cats.