Intellectually, you know that other people adore their children. In fact, it’s in your best interest to want people to adore their children. When people love and care for their children, the world benefits. Social science backs this up. People who care about their children make their best effort to educate them and teach them values. They spend their resources to make the next generation better.
But then you have your child, and you honestly wonder why anyone adores those other regular children.
Such is the beauty and reality of parenthood. Your heart tells you that your child is like no other. Your brain tells you that they’re just one more human on this planet.
Your heart and your brain are both right. When my first child was just a baby, I read a line in a parenting book that beautifully captured this duality. The writer said, and I paraphrase: In an ideal world, a child is raised to believe they are incredibly special, and they know they’re no more special than anyone else. That piece of advice has guided my parenting journey for over two decades.
My youngest child is about to graduate from high school. On the one hand, it seems as though I have lived with my children forever. On the other hand, I can’t believe it went so fast.
As parents of a graduating students, we’re asked to write senior letters, which are meant to be short missives to our children that wish them well and reminisce on fond memories of childhood.
But do the people who ask us to do it actually think that this can be done in a single letter? After all, we’re talking about young people who are going to change the world, who already have changed the lives of their families, and who – through their very existence – have brought love and joy into the world in quantities never before experienced by those they’ve touched.
How are parents supposed to capture that with a letter?
In my case, I chose to offer my daughter these three simple affirmations:
• Know that you are loved – The world will not always like you. The world will most certainly reject many of your ideas. But you should always carry the confidence of love. You are loved fiercely and passionately by people who know your soul. You are loved on your good days and bad, by people who have experienced both. We loved you on sight, and we fell even more madly in love with you as your jaggedy, bumpy, amazing self was revealed.
• Just start – Life is a series of big, long projects, many of which will fail. That’s OK. Actually, it’s better than OK – it’s great. If you care about something, you don’t need a perfectly scripted endgame to get started. Just do the easiest, most exciting part first, and the rest will be revealed. People who wait for a fail-safe script rarely create breakthrough developments.
• Be fully present – Your future is an amazing, uncertain, yet to be discovered journey. Your life – whether you choose to live it on a global or local scale – is a one-time event. Don’t miss it. Stay fully awake for the joy, the sorrow, the people, the scenery and the events – the awful ones and the wonderful ones. Plan for the future, but don’t let today slip away from you. Love your life, because you aren’t going to get another one.