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Reflections on Being a Parent

Posted Mar 31 2011 6:00am
Next Tuesday, my daughter turns 18. She becomes an adult with the ability to vote, take legal responsibility for her actions, and assert her own independence.

In some ways, my job as a parent is done. She has a good moral compass, feels good about herself, and is resilient . She knows when to ask for help and is open with us about her feelings, challenges, and goals. She's decided to skip much of adolescence and go directly from child to adult, bypassing most of the rebelliousness and occasional self destructive behavior of teens.

She's learned to balance work and play, limit texting and use of electronic devices, and how to build and grow relationships. She has the tools she needs to navigate the next stage of life as she enters college at Tufts University this Fall.

What have I learned from our past 18 years together?

1. Create a non-punitive climate of trust. It's far better to encourage discussion of tough issues than to "shoot the messenger" and create a fear of communication.

2. Strike a balance between too much oversight and too little. In 4 months, she'll leave home and make decisions for herself. She'll decide what to eat and drink, who to spend her time with, and how to balance academics with leisure. Managing her every moment at home with strict oversight may produce short term success but does not enable her to take ownership of the decisions she makes - good and bad. Providing no oversight can lead to risky and destructive behaviors. We've tried to set wide and reasonable limits, then give her free reign to run her life within those limits. She's learned from her mistakes and is a stronger, more self-reliant person because she had the freedom to choose her own path.

3. As with my professional life, I pay more attention to her trajectory than her position. Humans between 12 and 19 can have highly variable moods, rapidly changing ideas, and contrary behaviors. Reacting to every event day to day is likely to cause frustration on both sides. Chances are that today's troubling issue will be gone tomorrow or next week. Focus on the big picture, not the brushstrokes.

4. Strong negative emotions accomplish nothing. In the past 18 years, I can only remember a few times that I've raised my voice. Not only was it ineffective, I spent substantial time repairing the emotional damage done. The term I've used before is " Save as Draf t". If you ever feel negative emotions and want to yell, Save as Draft. Have a thoughtful discussion and rethink your emotions based on winning the war, not the battle.

5. Family experiences last a lifetime. Although it may not be immediately clear that time spent together has a profound affect, I can see that my daughter will pursue activities throughout her life inspired by the things we've done together over the past 18 years. Her love of nature, mountains, Japan, gardening, and beaches all come from those hours we spent experiencing the world together.

Of course, she'll have triumphs and tribulations in college. She'll seek our advice and support when she needs it. We'll help her launch a family of her own and continue to share our 50 years of life lessons when they can aid her decision making.

In August, we become empty nesters. Just as we transitioned from the spontaneity of our 20's to the parental responsibilities of our 30's, we're now headed into our next phase.

Thank you Lara for the past 18 years. You've made me a better person and I am confident you'll fledge into a magnificent young woman.
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