This week, our youngest child, Robert, is turning 14. His sister, Maggie, is two years older. Gone are the days when my husband and I were parents of toddlers, preschoolers or elementary school children. Instead, we are about to enter our last year as parents of middle-school students and are just three years away from Maggie's departure for college.
As seasoned parents, we now realize that having a child was just the beginning; raising a child properly requires a daily effort. In the early years, it's physically demanding -- bathing, clothing, feeding, picking up, etc. In the middle-school years, it's more intellectually demanding. What is the best way to connect, to motivate, to reach a child? Every child is different and what works for one may not work for another.
Our responsibilities as parents have grown from making sure they were fed, clothed and safe to ensuring that they learn the lessons needed to be successful and happy.
There are the personality lessons: be nice to others, be honest, share, be polite and be cheerful. There are personal activity lessons: be on time, finish your work and pay attention. All of these lessons are important, take practice and develop over time.
There are lessons in patience: accept that it can take time to learn, which can be a hard process. Also accept that it can take time to achieve rewards for your work. Instead of complaining, it is often best just to accept that hard work is required, then sit down and focus. Soon, you will be surprised at how much you have learned and how much you have done.
And lessons in responsibility. Inherent in the concept of personal responsibility is the idea that each individual is responsible for himself or herself. You are responsible for your health, your finances and your life. You are responsible for understanding and obeying the rules and the law. When events do not work out as you may have expected or hoped, look first to yourself as responsible.
And lessons in acting charitably: Help others less fortunate than yourself. While you should be responsible for your activities, bear in mind that some people may find themselves in unfortunate situations due to circumstances beyond their control. Reach out to them and assist them, whether through monetary donations or personal assistance. At some point in our lives, we will all need assistance from others.
As our children transition toward high school and college, and as the demands of parenting change from the time-consuming and physical to the intellectual and emotional, we are seeing the emergence of a new layer of lessons -- lessons on how to structure our lives.
These are lessons that I am still learning, lessons that we all need to consider as we travel through life.
The lessons concern how one should organize one's life in order to thrive rather than simply survive. The lessons are about more than pulling together the basics of food, safety and clothing; they are about more than getting an education that provides a pathway to success (but does not guarantee it).
No, the lessons are about how one creates a unique framework, structure and routine to build a life that reflects the values that person holds dear -- by spending time with those they love, and creating energy and value for the world at large.
This is a larger lesson, and one whose questions and answers will change based on where one may be in the journey of life. What fits and makes sense for the mother of a newborn baby may have little relevance to the mother of two college students who are no longer living at home.
The answers and structures will change based on each individual's talents, experiences, passions and interests.
Life's big challenge is in moving beyond basic fundamentals. That's done by cobbling together the little building blocks of life -- interests, habits, intellect, experience and happenstance to create something bigger, brighter and unique.
So, Robert, as you move from middle school and high school to college, know that your parents look forward to watching you and Maggie grow and build your own fascinating lives. We will by ready, as always, to support, encourage and love you both as you traverse the hills and valleys that will inevitably occur as you build -- and rebuild -- your lives.