Is she ready for the world? — Reflections on 18 years as a parent
As a teenager, when I used to contemplate the future I imagined it as a journey with progress measured in the passing of milestones. I saw it as a quest to reach a goal or destination, when I’d have done the hard bit and could enjoy the fruits of my labours.
As I approached the age of 18 I probably had it mapped out something like: university, job, marriage, financial security and shortly thereafter wealth, kids, bigger house, bigger car, growing pension pot, retirement, golf, false-teeth and eventual death.
More recently and with many years behind me I’ve learned that taking pleasure in the day-by-day is the reward, the purpose and the destination. Those stepping stones I imagined as a teenager are little more than markers, outward-reflections of my evolving aspirations and ever-changing goals emerging as my journey through life unfolds before me.
I have a pressing need to pass on this knowledge to my eldest daughter; as much as I remind myself that she will always be my little girl, I have a growing sense of urgency to make sure she’s prepared for life when I’m no longer there offering her support, encouragement and discipline to help her along the way.
I worry whether she’s ready or not. She probably can’t wait to be free of it.
This month we celebrated her 18th birthday, our millennium baby reached the age of legal-adulthood and in September she’ll head off to University in Europe (exam results permitting); the moment for signing-off on the completion of her childhood is nigh.
Back in early 2000 I didn’t contemplate the process of raising her in its entirety. I didn’t even know all the things I wanted to teach her to prepare her for life. New parents are more occupied with the functional demands of keeping their babies alive, fed, safe and warm, all while keeping their own lives ticking-over.
As the years pass focus shifts towards the kids’ education, their continuing development as citizens of the earth and to shaping them to respect authority and their elders, make friends and eat their vegetables.
If you’re blessed as we’ve been, to have a child who is free from disability, chronic illness or other challenges then you’re extremely lucky. If you have the means to provide for their basic needs, and are equipped to give them love, guidance and occasional help with homework then the majority of the rest of parenthood to the age of 18 is a relative-breeze.
Sure, you’ll need to help them through schooling, fund and occasionally push them to take up and stick with hobbies, continue to bring discipline, support, encouragement and love in varying measures. The biggest part though is in helping them to deal with the distractions of the outside world, and to ensure they’re prepared for functioning within it as an adult.
And so, as my first-born edges nearer to this landmark, I find myself wondering if she’s ready? Have I done enough?
In measuring my efforts against that subjective measure, ‘enough’, I’ve identified the key traits and values that I feel are essential for making it in today’s world.
She understands the importance of honesty, trust and doing what she says she will do
She’s a solid citizen through and through. Just as my grandfather would regularly reinforce in me his expectations of truthfulness and honesty, I’ve encouraged her to understand the fundamental importance of respect for herself and for others. Entwined with respect at a high level are the many other traits and values that contribute to her overall character. It’s her character that will underpin all that she goes on to do.
Too often we become consumed by the bigger picture, the next-big-thing or fixated on opportunities for growth or advancement that seem too good to miss. At the same time, we can lose sight of the importance of the fundamentals that help us to function in the world and contribute to our own growth and advancement of society as a whole.
There’s much to be said for doing the basics well in every endeavour. The world would be a better place if we were all a bit more honest, trustworthy, punctual, caring, responsible, patient and open-minded. These are amongst a long list of traits that I hope I’ve instilled in my kids and which I constantly remind myself to demonstrate.
She appreciates the importance of a loving and supportive family and friendship group
Her childhood has been unusual; her Mum and I had her at a young age and divorced when she and her sister were just 7 and 3. For over 10 years since we’ve co-parented them on a 50–50 basis, each acting as the ‘parent-in-residence’ on alternate weeks. It’s not always been plain-sailing and there have been as many challenges, tests and difficulties along the way as any family faces. There have also been successes and celebrations too, and if she’s ever felt cheated or in some way different due to her upbringing, she’s never blamed us or sought special treatment for it.
Her 18th birthday celebration was attended by both of her parents, each of us accompanied by our second-spouses, her sister and her step-siblings. The day was as happy, proud and emotional as any 18th birthday should be.
I know I’m biased, but one of her most precious traits is that she appreciates the importance of family and friends, and is fiercely loyal to them all. She has never played me and her Mum off against each other, even though the opportunities to do so were many. She has been discerning about forming and maintaining friendships but those she is closest to, have known her since nursery school. She’s remarkable for being the only teenager I’m aware of who has routinely phoned her grandparents most days on the way to high-school.
Family and friends are the foundation to her world-view, the basis of her network.
She understands the importance of hard-work and taking action to bring about change
She’s learned that things don’t land in your lap out of grace or good-fortune, but rather as a direct result of the efforts you put in. Her accomplishments to-date testify to this. Her academic achievements and successes in sports, fitness, music and every other field to which she’s applied her focus, are the result of persistent action, consistently taken.
When she feels fear or overwhelm at the study that stands between her and her desired grades, she knows the only thing that will bring results and ease her mind is to apply herself and do the work.
If she’s lamenting the state of her health and fitness, or preparing herself for a sporting event, she knows she needs to take action, pull on the training shoes and get on with it.
No amount of procrastination, worry or searching for options will change the situation; what’s required is to take action on a regular and committed basis, focused on the long-term goal but committed to the short-term steps that will lead her there. She knows and believes this.
She understands that things take time to achieve
As kids we felt as though next week was a lifetime away. When we yearned for the weekend, the summer or Christmas time to come around quicker, time seemed almost to stand still. As adults it becomes all too clear that time marches on with or without us. Time is often referred to as the scarcest and most valuable commodity we have and while potentially terrifying as a reminder of our mortality, it can be comforting in relation to the results and growth that can be achieved over time.
My daughter understands that we’re in life for the long-haul and that significant achievements manifest and compound over time if she allows herself to believe in it. Her high-school qualifications weren’t earned in a few hours in an exam hall, but rather over years of sustained study. This began the first day she stepped into nursery school. It began even before that, when she first started to observe and experience the world around her.
Training for running events of ever-increasing distance has taught her that you can’t go from a standing start to a half-marathon overnight. Even the gradual learning of domestic skills to enable her to fend for herself when I’m not there to cook and clean up after her has taken time; nobody is born with the skill to boil an egg, much less to prepare and cook an entire meal.
Learning takes time if you’re to achieve wisdom. Skills require practice to achieve mastery. Any goal that is stretching and worthwhile takes regular, repeated and diligent action. Crucially we must also allow for the passing of time in letting the effects of our efforts to manifest.
She knows the importance of taking personal accountability
When I’ve occasionally had to steer her in the right direction, it’s often been prompted by the many distractions that bombard teenagers today, most-notably those delivered via her smart-phone and social-networks. Who can say what effects such devices will continue to have as technology evolves in the future.
When her efforts have been distracted, or when social (or anti-social) interactions have threatened her motivation, self-belief or self-esteem, she’s been quick to recognise that her best course of action is not to engage. By playing her part in such exchanges, she’s been able to acknowledge that she’s part of the problem. Most significantly, she’s the only part of the problem that she can influence.
With growing maturity she’s been quick to acknowledge and admit her part in the failings of fledgling relationships, faltering friendships and the inevitable family disagreements that beset all families from time-to-time.
She’s demonstrated self-awareness and personal accountability in her leisure pursuits and her work. Exercise and dietary regimes have been pursued vigorously and with self-reliance. She’s become an accomplished musician by acknowledging the need to practice, attend rehearsals and perform under occasionally daunting circumstances. We’ve always encouraged her and attended concerts willingly and proudly, but she recognises that mastery at any level will come from within her.
Most importantly, she recognises that the blame for failures and the credit for success are hers and hers alone.
She understands the ultimate value of happiness
Happiness is the single most important measure of the quality of our existence and she clearly appreciates this fact. I’ve not raised a hedonist, and she’s here for a long-time, not just a good-time.
What I’ve tried to instil in her is that whilst material gain can be appealing and hard-work can appear a drag, the ultimate measure of a life well-lived is when it gives you a sense of contentment, gratitude, fulfilment and calm, each and every day.
When I was her age, I thought I could tolerate any variety of unpleasant and challenging conditions and tasks in work provided that I made enough money. I quickly learned that our working life dominates far too much time to merely accept it or get through it, exchanging our time for money. I suspect that more of us tolerate our jobs than truly love them.
I’ve tried to encourage her that she should set and work towards holistic goals for life that will balance material gain with personal fulfilment, quality of life and a sense of significance and purpose.
As is often the case, our way of life and the happiness, peace and contentment that it brings us, demands balance and equilibrium. A single-minded focus on wealth won’t bring happiness in itself. A hedonistic pursuit of pleasure won’t yield a sustainable or balanced life. Working endlessly as a means of changing the world, without adequate financial return will lead to eventual burn-out or bankruptcy. It’s all about balance.
I’m confident that she’ll go on to achieve status and success in whatever field she chooses. Crucially I hope her definition of success will meet all of her needs and values in equal measure, doing something she loves and reaping the benefits of that in her health, wealth and spirituality.
Is she ready for the world? Is the world ready for her?
Parenting, like many other aspects of life is not a linear process with a defined end-point.
I can reflect upon stages in my adulthood where I’d left home amid fanfare and with finality, only to end-up seeking a place to stay for weeks or even months back with my parents when times were tough.
Expecting that history will repeat itself, I’m loathe to overplay the significance of this point in time in the life of my first-born; she’ll be back, there’ll be plenty of occasions when I’m called into action, relied upon and needed.
What I’m sure of here and now, is that I’m releasing her into the world in the best state of readiness that I could.
I’m optimistic for her, and excited to see what the next chapter of her life reveals.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please feel free to join my email list.