independent outcomes

My sister’s older son, a high school senior, will apply to colleges this year. I still remember when my sister called me from overseas in 1995 to say she and her husband were going to have a baby. I still remember, vividly, waiting to hold him for the first time, in the entry way to my apartment, when he was four months old. I just held my arms out, and I swear, he smiled at me and just jumped.

His younger brother was born a bit over two years later. I met him when he was just a few months old. So did my to-be husband–and seeing him with my younger nephew gave me a hint of him as a dad, eight years later with our own daughter. This nephew, now a sophomore in high school, is thinking about colleges, too.

These nephews of mine, they have both turned out so well. Still turning out so well. It amazes my sister. (I’m not amazed. Just insanely proud.)

She shared an opinion piece by Michael Gerson this morning (as did our friends at Grown and Flown!), noting that her older son is one year younger than Mr. Gerson’s. I love this particular sentiment:

“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.”

I like this so much, this articulation of that fact that while you are not inconsequential, neither are you overly substantial. You are just one piece, of many. You have a part to play as a parent. But you are not the star.

My sister told me when our daughter was a very young infant that the minute your child is born, he or she will be driven to gain independence. From that, I gathered that it was my job to give it to her, and later to our new “him,” in developmentally appropriate stages, safely, all while keeping things calm and tidy. (That last part is not my sister’s influence, that’s just my particular set of neuroses.)

Our own mother raised us without any outward fretting or analysis about anything she did as a parent. I learned from my mother, by my observation, not her intention, to worry about the outcome, not the process, with children. After all, if you have more than one, that process you think you master with the first will need to be modified or chucked entirely with the second, or third…

Sometimes I skip the celebrations of some key process points. I forgot (or never thought) to take pictures of the kids before their first day of school yesterday. Took one at the end of the day, though. I think I did that last year, too, when our son started kindergarten… Probably because when I took one when our daughter started kindergarten, before school, she was highly annoyed with me. The picture I took at the end of that day was much better.

By then, she had new things to smile about and share.

Yesterday our daughter told us her teacher has a three-year-old in the PreK program at our school, and that the teacher hoped her little girl wasn’t crying, and that she should stop talking about it because she was starting to worry.

“Worry?” said our son. “She’s just like Mommy!”

I guess he noticed. I worry about process, about everything, really, in spite of my trumping respect for outcomes: I wonder how the kids are doing. I want to them to do well. I do not want to contribute to them not doing well. “First, do no harm.” Works for doctors, works for parents.

I teared up seeing our quiet son talk up a storm about his day: He learned his teacher has a Star Wars display at her house because she, like him, likes the movies. He spoke the words with reverence and respect, and with an ever so slight conspiratorial tone.

I teared up at my daughter’s pride at sharing a first name with her teacher, and the teacher noting that fact to all the other students in her class. I teared up (with silent laughter) at news that her 3-ring binder was the wrong size. “I got a little upset Mommy. The teacher said our notebooks would just barely fit, and that my old binder would drive me crazy.” (I got her a new binder last night.)

I just like them so much. Yes, yes, I love them. We all love our children dearly, would give our lives for them, they are our worlds, that goes without saying (but of course I have to say it).

But as they grow, I just like them, so much more, every day. Who they are and how they present themselves. I like watching how they’re turning out.

I like these outcomes. Outcomes that are mostly independent of me.

These are our kids, playing with their now nearly fully grown cousins, three years ago. They are running, and laughing… It’s true what Mr. Gerson says: I have been lucky to watch.

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‘What Do You Do?’

I like this essay, I understand this essay, far more than her first, (“Why I Regret Being a Stay-At-Home Mom.)

‘What Do You Do?’: A Stay-at-Home-Mother’s Most Dreaded Question – Lisa Endlich Heffernan – The Atlantic.

This essay speaks to the real issue that fuels Mommy Wars and gaffes by political pundits (Ed Rollins: “bored housewife,” JuanWilliams: “corporate wife).

Parenting has no explicit monetary value.

Note, I didn’t say “no value.” We all feel great about parenting. “It’s the most important job a person can do.” “Children are our future.” We think parenting is invaluable, in fact.

That’s a problem.

I just googled “economic value of parenting.” I was led to this:

The Economic Value of Unpaid Housework and Child Care in Nova Scotia.

It was published in 1998. Fifteen years ago. The authors advance a “Genuine Progress Index” to accompany GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, when trying to see how productive (and sustainable) a nation or economy is. They put a monetary value on parenting, because:

“In sum, failing to measure and value unpaid housework and parenting renders it invisible in the economic accounts from which policy makers take their cues and which guide the behaviour of governments, businesses and individuals. What is not counted and measured is insufficiently valued and given secondary priority in policy planning. By making the economic value of housework and parenting more explicit, the Genuine Progress Index can draw attention to hidden factors that directly impact our quality of life, our wellbeing and our prosperity… As the economic dimensions of our social and environmental assets are quantified and measured, they necessarily will become more visible and valued, and thus incorporated more readily into the framework of policy discussions on the provincial economy.”

“What Do You Do?”

I, like Ms. Endlich Heffernan, am asked that often, countless times over the past 8 years. And as I noted in the comments section on an earlier post, I have decided to answer that question in the following way:

“I work at home, raising my children. And I need a raise.”

I am my own first defense against any who might accidentally or intentionally undervalue what I do.

We each are our own first, and best, defense.

Happy Is As Happy Gives…

Well, isn’t this something? Check out this article in the Pacific Standard: “Do Children Make Us Happy?

They do, especially when parenting in a “child-centric” manner: 

Child-centric parents prioritize their children’s needs and wants over their own. The hallmark of a child-centric parent is self-sacrifice. The researchers define the child-centric mindset as one in which “parents are motivated to maximize their child’s well-being even at a cost to their own and are willing to prioritize the allocation of their emotional, temporal, financial, and attentional resources to their children rather than themselves.” 

And this:

In this study, the researchers again found that… child-centric parents… experienced more positive emotions when they were taking care of their children than when they were doing other things. These parents also experienced less negative emotions when they were taking care of their kids. Child-centric parents also derived more meaning out of their interactions with their kids. When they were not with their kids, these parents experienced less meaning and positive emotions.

I’ll just make the leap: according to these findings, being an at-home parent should yield tremendous happiness.

And if a new purpose in life–a new reason to sacrifice, or give, and transcend what you want for yourself–does not manifest by the time one’s children are grown, one would seem to be set up for unhappiness.

Even regret.