Is the ‘parenting bargain’ worth it?

I was thinking this morning that the human reproductive process offers an odd bargain: a few moments of pleasure followed by several months of discomfort, culminating in an event that– for most people– requires hospitalization.

So it is with parenting: brief flashes of delight surrounded by extended periods of pain, suffering and repetition. It often seems that the role we play as parents could be accurately assumed by a tape recorder, since we spend the majority of our time repeating ourselves (“brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth”) hoping for a glimmering moment of gratification (“You already brushed your teeth? That’s awesome!”) Except, of course, for those things you really don’t want them to learn. I can tell them a thousand times to pick up their socks without making an impression at all, but let one careless utterance escape that includes a word they shouldn’t repeat and all you’ll hear is “damn, damn, damn, damn…” If you think this can’t possibly be true, picture in your mind my 4-year-old son, sitting at the kitchen table, who looks up at me and says, “Dad, these apples are damn good!”

Kids– and everything about raising them– can be the most frustrating aspect of our lives. And most of us put ourselves in this position willingly! It’s as if someone offered you a choice: Would you rather live with this person that you’ve chosen (after a protracted and difficult search), have quite a bit of free time, extra income, and the freedom to do as you please with your vacation time for the rest of your lives, or… none of the above?

Parents, in an act that seems to defy all logic, willingly choose the latter. And for what? That smile on a baby’s face that is reserved only for you? Those hugs when a toddler wraps his arms and legs around you as if he’ll never let go? Those moments when she lays her head on your shoulder and sleeps, with no concern for anything else in the world, completely at ease in your arms and assured of her safety? That instant of discovery when you see them realize something, completely on their own, for the first time? When all the planets and stars align and someone you know, without prompting, says something like, “She’s a great kid” about one of yours?

Well, yes, actually. Exactly that, all of that, and more. While my kids aren’t quite old enough yet to break my heart, I know those days are coming. But I welcome them, just as I welcome each of the daily struggles and turmoil, because they are all the essence of parenting, bracketed by those other moments of perfection that make it all worthwhile. Can a simple smile or a hug or a statement like “I love you, Daddy” really be worth suffering all those other moments?

Absolutely. I’d choose door number two every time.

How does your garden grow?

Abby & Grace

Abby & Grace

You plant a garden. Your flowers don’t grow.

You don’t criticize and yell at your flowers.

You water, fertilize, and nurture them… and your garden grows.

Think about your family, friends, and co-workers.

When you find them not doing what they’re supposed to do, or not doing it in a way you want it done, what do you do? Do you criticize them?

Or do you teach, nurture, and support them?

To Do Today: Don’t criticize others.  Try to understand what they need to be successful and then provide it.

– Friar Telly, II

My entry for “Parent of the Year,” circa 2011

Three ready to go... where's Abby?It’s not like I haven’t been here before. In fact, I seem to have a knack for putting myself in exactly the right position to be used as an excellent example of what not to do when raising your children. Examples include the missing Tooth Fairy, the broken collar bone, and the broken arm.

Remembering that broken arm incident actually makes me feel a little better about this, so I’m glad I paused a moment to reflect. Still, this was pretty egregious. It started with the idea that a kids triathlon would be fun…

The kids have been swimming on the North Willow Swim Team for the last two years, including daily practices and two meets a week for the past month or so. They all have ridden their bikes to Bub’s for burgers and back, so I knew that putting a few miles behind them wouldn’t be a problem. (Of course, in the race, they wouldn’t be stopping in the middle to eat The Big Ugly and a milkshake, but still…) And the run, well… let’s just say it ain’t that far.

So they are all geared up and we head to Zionsville on Monday, July 4, for the big event. It should be pretty simple: 7-10 year olds will swim 100 meters, bike 1.8 miles and run .8 miles. All of them can do this pretty easily, so I’m not worried. And, honestly, neither are they. (Except Abby, who is uncontrollable terrified for some unknown reason. She cries for about an hour and refuses to take off her shoes. “They’ll only slow you down in the pool,” says I. She is unmoved.)

At check-in, I discover that the triathlon powers-that-be have designated that competitors will compete at the age they will be on December 31. For everyone but Lily, that’s their current age. Unfortunately for Lily, this puts her in the 11-12 year-old group and changes just about everything. The event she signed up for suddenly became a little horrific: the swim is now 200 meters, the bike ride is 4.5 miles, and the run is 1.8 miles. As far as I know, Lily hasn’t run over a mile at one time in her life. Additionally, when I think about the math, it’s clear to me that she could be competing head-to-head with girls who could be two years older.

To help keep her calm, I keep all of this information to myself.

In the end, they all raced like champions. After watching the older kids kick off the event, Abby set her fears (and her shoes) aside and joined the fray. She and Grace finished 3 & 4, respectively. Abby was just 1:02 from finishing first behind an 8-year-old. Jack finished in the middle of the field, 15th out of 26. There were only three minutes separating him from 5th. And Lily, to my everlasting joy, finished 17th out of 20, just a few minutes from the main pack.

When I asked them if they had fun and whether they were excited about the next one, Lily responded: “I’ll do my next one in 6th grade.” That went completely over my head until Charmaine explained that by then she’ll be 12.

If you’re interested, you can download the complete race results. And here are a few photos of race day:

Your life should be awesome…

Grace inspects a caterpillar

Tell your parents, tell your friends, tell your co-workers, tell your children: Your life should be awesome. It can be–it will be–and it’s all up to you. So says, Neil Pasricha, author of “The Book of Awesome” and the blog “1000 Awesome Things.” The key, he says, lies in three A’s: Attitude, Awareness, and Authenticity. (It’s like this guy climbed up inside my head and could see what I was thinking…)

This short video from his TED presentation provides the background on awesome, the three A’s, and leaves you with a parting thought for life. And it’s all right on the mark.

“Look,” says Pasricha, “we’re all gonna get lumps and we’re all going to get bumps. None of us can predict the future, but we do know one thing about it: and that’s that it ain’t going to go according to plan. There are times in your life when you will get tossed in the well, with twists in your stomach and holes in your heart. And when that bad news washes over you and that pain sponges and soaks in, I just really hope you feel like you’ve always got two choices.

“One, you can swirl and twirl and you can gloom and doom forever; or two, you can grieve and then face the future with newly sober eyes. Having a great attitude is about choosing option number two, and choosing, no matter how difficult it is, no matter what pain hits you, choosing to move forward and move on and take baby steps into the future.”

There are some great moments in this talk and it’s well worth the fifteen minutes you’ll spend watching. (His example of authenticity is simply too good to spoil; you’ll just have to watch for yourself.)

Share it with friends and co-workers, but more importantly, share it with your kids. Help fortify them and give them the skills and the tools they need to face their lives with optimism and deliberation. Help the create–and then live–an awesome life.