In It For the Long Haul

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After the birth of my first child, I started working on a book with a friend loosely titled, “What You Didn’t Expect When you were Expecting.”  I mean, things were going along so well until…

WHAM!

The babies were born, and it was nothing like we expected.

Where were those Hallmark commercials we planned for?  The flowing white night gowns and the smiling babies, cooing and giggling and hitting every developmental milestone right on cue?

Parenting, it turns out, is not for the feint of heart. It is a tough job with long hours, and minimal wage. There are lots of rewards, of course, but they are hard won, and often short lived.

Diane and I chose the topic of endurance for this month’s theme because it’s role in parenting is not to be under-estimated.  The physical challenges of being a parent – sleeplessness, stress, carrying and lifting – are certainly enough to keep us fit, or age us exponentially.

The emotional challenges weigh us down, and keep us up at night.

We start off as parents with goals and dreams that have little to do with the other human being involved — our child — over whom we have absolutely no control. Influence, maybe, but no control. Oh, yeah — and that human being is constantly changing.

A key lesson for many of us is understanding what is and is not in our control, much like Mark Bertin talked about in last week’s Featured Expert blog. This is truer in the case of our kids than almost anything else.

We WANT so much for our kids. In truth, sometimes “WANTING” is the only tool we have. We can’t control their health, or their height, or their gifts or passions. But we can WANT them to be successful, to do well in school, to make good friends, etc.

We expend a huge amount of energy as parents – particularly when our kids have complex needs – constantly re-evaluating what is best for our kids. We consider the options, and then we try to compare that to what we WANT for our kids,  Frankly, it’s exhausting.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do it, because the ability to respond to new circumstances is the mark of a responsive parent.  But we do need to make sure that we take care of ourselves along the way, so that we don’t burn ourselves out.

So, how do we stay in it for the long haul? Take a marathon-approach to parenting. Once you recognize that this is an endurance game, these 10 steps will guide you on your path:

  1. Assume that there is lots to learn
  2. Learn what can be taught
  3. Prepare for whatever you can anticipate
  4. Expect the unexpected
  5. Be flexible on the journey
  6. Nourish yourself
  7. Focus on the present, not on the finish line
  8. Set short goals along the way
  9. Expect complications and trust that you’ll work through it
  10. Celebrate incremental Successes

So this month, take some time to look at the big picture of your role as a parent. Where are you changing things up and finding the strength to endure, and where are you burning yourself out? Which of the 10 steps above really need your attention?

Are you ready? Get set. Continue…

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