My parents could be labeled average people, they were steadfast citizens with a moral compass and an honest bias. Growing up, my siblings and I never encountered drinking problems, violence, or infidelity from within our family. I was lucky to have been born to them.
In addition, I knew my parents loved me unconditionally, that I had a place to come home to, and that Dad would always provide to the best of his abilities. This sense of security empowered me to take risks as a youth and later in my career as an entrepreneur.
However, my early life did not prepare me for the rigors of motherhood or the burden of inadequacy and guilt that came with it. (I am not sure I ever even held a baby before my own.) Having never babysat as a teenager, having no younger siblings to learn from, and not having majored in elementary education, I was wholly unprepared for the biggest job of anyone’s life, parenting. Just the thought of being entrusted with another human being’s safety is daunting enough. But, if you let your mind leap ahead, you are training the next generation, leaving a legacy of purpose, and being a good steward of not just your own family but the family of mankind.
Luckily again, I was able to lean on my parents for knowledge and support. I slowly learned about the business of babies and as my children grew, I tried to model the love, support, and hard work I had seen as a youth.
Unbeknownst to me, parenting is not innate. It is a learned skill. After four children I learned that boundaries are a show of love. My older sister, who’s a schoolteacher, gave me a tip. She told me to punish in groups rather than refereeing. This reduces sibling rivalry and teaches kids to solve problems among themselves, lest mother find out.
Another family rule was everyone must be out of bed by 9 am. This simple rule instills a lifelong good habit and inhibits a teenager’s ability to stay up too many late nights. I also learned not to ask my kids (with no knowledge base) what they wanted for dinner, where they wanted to go to school, or really anything. Plus, to eliminate peer pressure, I enacted a no-dating policy until they were 17 years old, encouraged healthy risk taking, and thwarted dangerous or unkind activities.
I learned that some kids are good in school, and some are not. That some kids are good at sports and some are not. That Scott toilet paper really does go farther than other brands. And that families are imperfect, but also accepting, forgiving…and thus, beautiful.
Thankfully, a family in this day and age can look like many things. But there is no replacement for an absent parent in thought, word, and deed. A teacher, policeman or politician cannot replace a parent.
Like most things, with a willingness, parenting can be learned, though perfection is unattainable. And that is okay. Families matter to ALL of us and the manner in which one parents is transferrable generation after generation.