My ridiculously sweet neighbors jogged past my house this morning with their kids. And as I watched them lope by – a vision of health and togetherness – an uninvited thought popped into my head:
“You’re doing it wrong.”
(Said to myself and not to them.)
“You don’t jog, and you sure as heck don’t take your kids jogging at 8 am. It would be so good for everyone if you did. Togetherness, activity, cardio, rhythm!”
I waved meekly at my superhuman neighbors. The voice droned on.
“You’d be better for it, and so would they. But who are we kidding? You’d hate it. And you’d hurt for days if you even tried to jog as far as the mailbox…”
You’re doing it wrong.
I had the same thought last week when another family rode bicycles past. Out on a grand adventure; out in the world and moving – together. (What were we doing instead? I don’t remember, but I’m sure it didn’t raise our heart-rates.)
Sometimes that voice whispers in my ear when I hear stories of my children’s friends tackling epic projects for school or getting on an airplane without their parents. That voice, always whispering softly in the back of my mind.
I heard it once when a dear friend shared a video of her child in a gymnastics competition. She! Was! Amazing! But as I watched her vaulting across the floor I thought, “My kids don’t even know what a pommel horse is.”
And I wondered, “What if gymnastics was their destiny and I never even put it on the table? How do you know you are destined for something if you are never exposed to it?”
And there it was again. That voice.
You’re doing it wrong.
But here’s the thing.
No parent – no person – can do it all.
None of us can be All the Things to All the People.
And so what if instead of beating ourselves up for all the things we’ve gotten wrong, we surrender to the idea that our kids picked the parents that would do it right for them?
What if each of us landed in best possible scenario for becoming the best version of ourselves – whatever that life may look like?
What would that mean for you?
It would mean that you pushing your kids hard at academics is just as right as me allowing copious amounts of space in which my kids can dream.
It would mean that gymnastics has no more – or less – value than learning how to draw portraits or how to make tinctures.
It would mean that a child staying tucked up safe and warm in their parent’s arms for as long as they need to is just as valuable as a confident wave and nudge from their mom as they board an airplane alone.
It would mean that we’re both doing it right – no matter how different our paths may be.
It would mean that as long as we’re doing our best we can’t possibly be doing it wrong.
So for me, the takeaway I suppose is to embrace the idea that I’m doing okay, even if there are potholes in the path before us.
And to recognize that if I made space to offer gymnastics I wouldn’t also offer a front row seat to a goat birth in the barn.
That if I pushed my kids tirelessly toward academic success I would not make space for them to delve deep into the waters of self-directed learning.
If we had money for a new laptop my son might have a fast computer, but he wouldn’t have taught himself how to reflow a hard drive when the old one broke.
If I enrolled them in many lessons they wouldn’t learn their way around the kitchen, the workshop, and the woods in the ways that they have.
And so to those who have told me, “You live the dream! I wish we could do half of the things with my kids that you do with yours,” know that there isn’t a single “right” path leading us there. For every gift we offer there’s another that we don’t.
And the lives that we have shaped for our children and ourselves – however different – each deliver the struggles and opportunities that will transform us in the way we were meant to transform.
And while my children may not thrive in a bustling crowd or under the pressure of filling out a scantron, they are undaunted by long strings of quiet in which to dream, create, and grow.
And while they may not know a pommel horse from a quarter-horse, one of them can teach you the difference between mullein and self-heal and help you deliver a lamb; and the other can explain in exhausting detail the difference between fission and fusion and teach you how (and why) to cold forge steel.
Am I doing it wrong? Maybe. But for today anyway I’m putting that side.
Because – as it turns out – I’m also doing it right.
And – as it turns out – so are you.
Originally published in 2016.