The future depends on how we parent, so it’s our biggest responsibility. Too bad there’s no manual or required training. Here’s a key though. The most important thing we can do for our kids is to be good to ourselves, to enjoy life, and to be positive adventurous people – and to show that to them.
If we’re juggling jobs and life and we’re coming home stressed out, better to go do something relaxing and get rid of the stress first. Our kids don’t need to see us worried, irritated or fearful.
We deserve a playtime every day, to maintain a healthy attitude. And children with adventurous parents are fortunate. We’re not supposed to be slaves to our kids. It’s an old model.
If we’re out there, enjoying a job, a hobby, friends, etc., and coming home feeling fulfilled and excited about life – and encouraging excitement in our kids – then we’ve given them something valuable.
One of my favorite adventurous-parent moments was during my son’s “graduation lock-in.” His senior class spent a chaperoned night in the school gym, with food and activities. And families could participate, so his brothers and I went along.
One activity looked fabulous to try. I had to put on a coverall outfit made of Velcro, bounce off a small trampoline, and hurl myself toward a Velcro-covered wall. There I was, hanging off the wall, limbs dangling, unable to stop laughing. Where were my sons? They’d left, pretending they didn’t know me.
We’re ushering our children into a world where people feel anxious: dignity, integrity and kindness have diminished, war is out of control, the environment is a mess, there’s violence in the streets, and poverty, hunger and disease are everywhere. “It’s bad and getting worse.”
Children who live with adults, who focus primarily on the negativity and see the world as a frightening place, may end up seeing it the same way – viewing the world through a lens that says, “You should be frightened. It’s terrible out there. And you can’t trust it.” Kids with that perspective already start out at a disadvantage.
Why program our children with a battle they’ll need to overcome? Why not present them with a picture of an adventurous and abundant world, and let them build a life from that?
Fortunately, children have a lot of inner strength that helps them overcome a daily negative perspective and experience. They’re so naturally forgiving and resilient that they tend to make it in spite of us. Some guardian element wells up from inside them and saves them from our worst mistakes.
Our biggest responsibility as parents is to feel all right, even when life’s messy. It’s not necessarily a skill or tendency that we’re born with. It’s a moment-to-moment decision. The most important decision we make as parents – to be a positive example.
After my divorce, I felt like a failure. So I hid out for more than a year, just going to work and then coming home to my kids, feeling more depressed than is my nature. Then I was asked to join a local stage presentation of “The Twelve Astrological Signs of Christmas.” Gemini was the only sign left, and I could do whatever I wanted. So I said Yes, I would crawl out of my hiding place.
I dressed as half-man and half-woman, wearing half a man’s suit, half a dress and half a mustache. And I told jokes about the bum rap Geminis get for being dualistic. Fortunately, it worked, my friends laughed about it for years, and it became a defining moment for me because that was the day I “uncorked my bottle” and found my lost joy.
Choosing joy means letting ourselves off the hook and loving ourselves anyway. And it will transform the rest of our lives, including our relationships, career, finances and health.
When children grow in the presence of adults who are not afraid and who are finding the world to be an interesting and abundant place, they have a head start on a fulfilling life.
They need one wonderful role model. If they live with just one person who is happy, they can handle one who is not. When they have one parent who’s having a marvelous time and another who is overwhelmed by the challenges, they can handle the comparison and choose the model they want. And they’re wise enough to say, “That’s the way I want to be.”
Even if our marriage isn’t working well, we can be an effective, positive influence on our kids. Our partners may not be happy, in which case they’re likely to be fearful, bitter and accusing. We can join them in that place – or we can stand outside of it, choosing to be positive instead.
Trying to make our partners over won’t work. We can’t pressure them to come where we are. We have to accept whatever experience they’re having, without wallowing in it with them. We can’t give them our joy, but we may be able to help them find an alternative healthier way of living by living it ourselves. If we do it well enough, our partners might say, “I want some of that!” Even the most obstinate partner may find our irrepressible confidence too much to resist.
And our children will still see one person who is consistently joyous, who demonstrates that life is not threatening, regardless of money in the bank, promotions at work, peace with other family members, a good sex life, etc.
The list of reasons to not be happy is endless. And the decision to not go there is life changing.
Even if our children are grown, we can set an example of someone who’s finding joy in life and can identify the cause as internal. A healthy, happy lifestyle is infectious because people will want what we have – and then we’ll discover the people around us changing as well.
If we’re not enjoying life, we probably know people who are. And we can make sure our children experience those people as role models. We can point to their strengths and say, “See how that person is responding to life. I don’t always respond that way. But I want you to know it’s possible, and that I believe it’s preferable, and I’m working on being able to do it.”
It’s especially important in single parent families, where the only model might be a stressed out mom or dad. And he or she may need extra support from friends and family members, to make sure the children are witnessing joy, even under stress.
As a single parent, I lived far from extended family and ended up doing most of it alone. And there were times when I felt overwhelmed, especially in solving problems. I had two relief-remedies. One was to sit on the toilet and bury my face in the bath towel hanging in front of me, and cry my eyes out. The other was to go into the garage and use a short length of garden hose to beat the heck out of an old metal garbage can, and then cry my eyes out. In both cases, there was a helpful feeling of relief. And then I went back to the family and got on with whatever needed to be done.
I always encouraged my sons to remember that, although we didn’t have many of the things that the other families in our affluent coastal neighborhood had, we had great fun bordering on magic.
One winter when it snowed, I woke them up in the middle of the night and told them, “Come with me.” We dressed warm, gathered all the boogey boards, and headed out to the sand dunes where everything was crystallized and glistening. And we spent the next hour sliding down the snow banks, squealing and laughing.
I’ve always encouraged them to not take life seriously. And I’ve never wanted anyone to convince them that “life is bad and getting worse.” It may be true for others, but it doesn’t need to be true for my sons.
Life is as good as we believe it is, and not a bit better or worse.
I used to tease them that when they died the Big Dudes of Karma would ask them what they’d accomplished, so it was important to figure out what matters in matter. Their answer could be: “I spent years developing a talent, and I worked my butt off building a career and gaining awards and prestige, and I acquired a really big house full of pricey objects, and I finally got that car I always wanted.” Or they could say: “I had a blast, earth was amazing, and along the way I helped a few people feel better about themselves.”
When we walk around feeling delighted with life, it just naturally goes better for us. When we find something to appreciate in everything and everyone, we’re less likely to experience people or situations that rub us the wrong way.
Sometimes, my husband and I can get on a roll of great happenings, where good feelings and experiences snowball. Once when we were visiting Mallorca, we were riding a bus into the capital city of Palma de Mallorca when a screw fell out of my sunglasses. It would’ve been easy to feel bummed, but we went the other way.
We began to actually look for this tiniest of screws on the dirty floor of this crowded fast-moving bus. And Ron actually found the thing! We were so excited. Just then, we arrived at our bus stop, and as we got off, there in front of us was an eyeglass store! So we went inside. Were they willing to help us? Of course, they were! A friendly salesperson fixed my glasses. No charge! Out of the store we went, feeling happy and grateful. And to top it all off, Ron grabbed my arm and said, “Listen!” A band in the park across the street was playing Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road!”
It really works to just not let anything or anyone talk us out of feeling good!
What happens when we trust life nonstop, even in challenging situations? When we choose to enjoy every moment simply because it feels good to live life that way? When we commit to finding more vitality, joy and value in life?
This is what happens. We feel comfortable with ourselves and our relationships. We don’t tense in the presence of others, afraid of disapproval. Problems resolve easily, and relationships improve naturally. It’s as if we’re in just the right place at the right time. Innovative ideas occur to us, people show up with whatever we need, opportunities abound and doors fly open! Even miracles become commonplace.
We thrive! And our kids get to see us doing it, which makes them the most fortunate of all.