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What are the most important things we can give our children?

May 14, 2014

We have but a few, short years to shape and refine them, to help our children become the people they were meant to be. And then, we send them out into the world to find their way. It’s a tough job, isn’t it? To love and care so deeply about someone, about the outcome of this process of growing up, and yet be forced to let go of how it all turns out?

That’s why they say that when you become a mother you’ll never sleep well again. Your baby grows and learns to sleep through the night. But as a parent, you never stop thinking and worrying and agonizing. You might sleep, but it’s never as peaceful as when you only had yourself to worry about.

I spend a lot of time studying parenting. It’s my job, after all, to talk about how to raise healthy kids. I read the latest studies and interpret the most cutting edge scientific data. And yet, I can never shake the feeling that the science can’t explain it all. Yes, it is important to know that your baby should always sleep on his back. It’s important to understand how to manage asthma and eczema. It’s important to know how to properly install your car seats.

Although those things can help keep your child physically healthy, they leave a big, gaping hole. I’m still left wondering how to guide my children through the uncertainties in life, how to help them become adults who are loving, responsible, fulfilled and kind. I want to be sure that as they go out into the world, they are armed with wisdom, emotional maturity, the ability to live and love well.

Let’s be honest, though. There are hundreds of books that attempt to address those issues. There are parenting experts who will tell you step-by-step instructions for every issue under the sun. I’ve read a lot of those books, and yet something is still missing.

It’s this:

You can’t give your children something that you don’t have.

I’m not talking about money or opportunities or even educational advances. I’m talking about those intangibles that we all want our children to possess, yet find so difficult to grasp- happiness, fulfillment, love, emotional and spiritual maturity, peace with themselves and others.

Those are some of the most important things we can give our kids, aren’t they? And yet, the truth is, we will never be able to give something to them that we haven’t found ourselves.

Recently, I had a disagreement with a close friend. She was offended by something I’d said, and she wanted to talk to me about it. When I knew that she was upset, I’ll be honest, all I wanted to do was run away. I didn’t want to face the pain of hearing what I’d done wrong. I didn’t think I could bear the embarrassment, the shame. I was willing to sacrifice a dear friendship in order to avoid it.

In the end, though, I didn’t run away from the difficult conversation. We spoke honestly about our feelings and our hurts, but with deep love for one another. We were able to take a situation that had the potential to end our friendship and turn it into something beautiful.

Through this ordeal, I understood her better; I understood my own reactions and motivations better. But most importantly, I learned how to work through conflict, to face a difficult situation, to love someone well even if I didn’t agree with them. It felt like a huge personal victory for me. And then, I realized that it was also a huge victory for my children, even if they may not reap those rewards until later in life.

When my daughter reaches high school and experiences conflict with her friends, how will I be able to help her work through those conflicts well if I’ve never done it myself? How will I teach her to face the tough conversations, to speak honestly but with love? How will I convince her that true friendships are worth fighting for if I’ve never been brave enough to do so myself?

I can’t give her what I don’t have. I can’t teach what I don’t understand.

This realization has prompted me to do one thing- to keep trying. Keep trying to work through my own issues to become a healthier, more fulfilled person. Keep trying to learn how to love those around me better. To keep trying to develop myself in the ways that I hope my children will develop as adults.

After all, I can only take them as far as I’ve been, so I’ve got to keep going.