I spent a good chunk of my New Years Eve looking though boxes and folders of old family photos. Some dated back to my parents’ childhood and some of them were from my own. But mostly I walked down the memory lane of my own three children’s lives.
It’s interesting looking at yesteryear photos of your own children. The memories are still clear (well, mostly) and the emotions of the moments are still alive. What I noticed has changed, as I looked at hundreds upon hundreds of photos of my kids, is the meaning that many of the images now hold.
Parental mileage brings many things. Excess wrinkles. Weight. And, without sounding too arrogant, some perspective.
The above picture of my youngest son, Drew, is a perfect example.
Three-year-old Drew is wearing his older brother’s Taekwondo gear. Or maybe it’s a combination of Taekwondo and other sports gear. Regardless, the little guy was a living version of the Pillsbury Dough Boy – cushy, squishy, and padded up from head-to-toe. It was his concoction. His solution to creating more fun in his life by jumping off of staircases, running full-speed into his siblings, or wrestling the dog who was twice his size.
And while I know you might assume this was a one-time photo opportunity, it actually was part of Drew’s regular attire for many, many months. Candidly, I must admit, I was thrilled that he would wear it.
Because, you know, protecting our kids is important, right?
But that’s where this photo sent me down a totally different thought pattern – 18 years after it was originally taken. What I see today is very different.
What I see today are the dangers of over-protecting our kids.
And, of course, I’m not talking about abandoning our responsibility to provide for their physical safety (although there’s probably plenty of room to loosen up about that!). I’m talking about all the things we do to protect our kids from the things that hurt. Lord knows I’ve spent many a late night finishing up a social studies project to perfection so my child could proudly carry it in the following morning and enjoy the accolades of a job well done. And I’ve preemptively had countless early-morning face-to-face conferences with teachers to head off a problem before it even had the chance of occurring. I’ve made sure their wish lists from Santa were fulfilled to the letter.
I’ve done it all. All in the spirit of protecting their tender hearts from ever hurting.
But somewhere along the dad path I made a strategic shift – and if it were a bumper sticker that shift would read: “Shit Happens. Deal With It.”
It was the best shift I ever made. And, truthfully, it’s allowed me to be a better parent.
We’ve just finished the year 2016 and, for many, it’s a year that has been characterized as “the year that couldn’t get over fast enough.” You can’t be on social media without seeing swarms of people who simply wanted the year to end so the bad things would stop. The promise of a new year brings the hope of the absence of pain, right?
But life doesn’t really work that way. Pain and adversity really don’t keep a schedule.
I certainly learned that a dozen years ago when, in the span of a few years, I lost my dad to cancer, then lost my brother to cancer, then discovered myself facing a cancer diagnosis and then was handed the biggest challenge of all – the end of marriage and years of legal navigations to gain sole custody of my children. Did I want the merry-go-round of adversity to stop? Heck, yeah. But I think it was early on during my own cancer journey that I realized I wasn’t steering this ship called life.
Which brings me back to the picture of Drew. And what I think all children need most from us.
Our children need the power and promise of resiliency.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Drew – now about to celebrate his 21st birthday – and his brother and sister, have all had plenty of hard knocks in their lives. Academics, friendships, careers, relationships, emotions. Most have been small. But a few would have crippled many a seasoned adult.
And what tells me I’ve done at least one thing right as a dad is seeing them work through those moments in life. I’ve watched them not run to me to fix things but (if I’m fortunate) simply turn to me as a person to consult. I’ve watched them support each other. And I’ve seen them have the most important thing of all:
A belief in themselves. In the future. And the rightful and joy-filled place that is ultimately theirs to discover.