My daughter in law school sent me the link to Whitworth University’s commencement address by a young lady named Jena Nardella. You can see the speech in its entirety here.
Her point is simple, yet poignant. Our lives and journeys are the sum of countless small steps, stops and starts, and to jump past any of those building blocks is to lose a precious experience. She refers eloquently to the “uneven up and down, 3 steps forward 2 steps back nature of both work and life amidst challenging circumstances, broken relationships, and deep-set cultural constraints.”
A good friend of mine, and the founder of the Seedling Foundation, once put it like this. “I am only one person, but I can be a small drip for God and join with others to form a stream and eventually a mighty river.” Even with that imagery in mind, he accepts that each project will be a “brick by brick” (often literally!) proposition and it may take years to truly impact a school community.
Our American culture usually focuses on the end game. We care about the score, the outcome, the end product and the all important results. I have learned the hard way that life,and the children in it don’t work that way.
There are people in the business world who would like it very much if we could somehow quantify success, come up with a process to replicate it again and again, and come out the end with a quality product in education.
That product being, of course, your children.
I have worked in business and I have volunteered in education. I have parented two young people to adulthood. I have observed thousands of families and individuals over the years and the one thing I can tell you with total confidence is this: There is no one way to success.
For one thing, success means different things to different people and your child’s happiness and productivity in life (the ultimate success, right?) may look very different to him than it does to you. Even experts say, “College is not for everyone,” and they are right!
Your child may seem to be taking more steps backwards than you feel comfortable with, or she may be taking too long to get where you feel she should go…welcome to parenting, and it gets no easier the closer they get to adulthood.
What can you do to support them?
- Listen with an open mind and heart as they explore their myriad of options and find the one that fits. Try to leave judgment behind when they announce a decision to you that you either don’t agree with or don’t think is achievable. Life will teach them these lessons…you don’t have to.
- Only give your advice when it is asked for, but don’t be afraid to ask interested, open-ended questions.
- Guard against asking questions in a way that reveals your bias or opinion. They will see through that stratagem and may close down on you.
- Steel yourself for the possibility that they will choose something so far out in left field that you will gasp in surprise. It happens and sometimes it is just for shock value; sometimes it is a dream that has evolved, or that they just didn’t mention before. Contain your reaction, ask questions and trust your child to eventually reject what is not realistic as they learn more about it, or to pursue it because it is truly what he or she wants to do.
Does this mean that you must finance their life decisions and its process? No.
You and your partner know what you can afford, what you are willing to commit to your children and you will do them no favors by withholding that decision and information as college and graduate school approach. Be frank, give them a budget if you are willing to help, and then stand by that decision. They will learn that there are opportunity costs in everything we choose to do. To do one thing means not doing a host of others. Money is finite. Energy is finite. They must choose where they spend their resources and this is a valuable life lesson they can’t afford to miss.
Listen with a supportive and non-judgmental ear when the road gets rocky, they start to question themselves, and you see a “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” looming. They will figure it out, all you have to do is listen.
Drip by drip, brick by brick, moment by moment, the future is built and lived through by our children. We must always remember that the world is ultimately theirs; not ours.