Barely over a mile in, and I’m sucking wind. So sad. It’s hard to believe that a few years ago, an exponentially longer run resulted in euphoria, not fatigue. I’ve been moderately sick for a few months and unable to run, so today was the big day. Despite perfect weather, adequate sleep, and the strategically-timed cup of coffee, I limped along fueled by sheer determination. I’m tired.
We have five children, ages 8-25, and currently have no teenagers. Think about it. Our family makeup could practically be used as a logic riddle. The last few years have been somewhat of a “golden age” in our home with no little ones awake in the wee hours of the morning, and no new drivers or high school parties requiring late night parenting vigils. Let me be clear – I love much about the teen years. The shift from childhood toward maturity, meaningful conversations, pivotal choices, and a glimpse into what their adult life may hold, collectively make this phase of parenting significant. But as with any worthwhile endeavor, that which is of great value often comes at great cost.
At one point, we had two teenagers, a pre-schooler, a toddler, and a newborn living in our home. Our oldest children are now in their early twenties and actually survived their teen years, largely in spite of us. On this side of the “parenting the teenager” journey, I’m increasingly convinced that much of the stress and heartache along the way is largely reflective of the parents, not the kiddos. That, by the way, is a personal confession. In hindsight, there is nothing like a normal, healthy teenager to reveal the selfish heart and personal agenda of a parent. But somehow, we all made it through, and watching our young adults make their way in the world has made it well worth the effort required.
In my 39th year, I confessed to a friend that running a longish race was on my unspoken bucket list. She didn’t let me stop at a wish, and pledged to run all of the longer training runs with me. Before I knew it, I had registered for the race, printed out my training schedule, and purchased bright new running shoes. I had no idea what the next few months would hold, but was fueled by excitement, aspiration, and a meticulously-loaded ipod. I couldn’t have anticipated the cold, dark, insanely early morning runs or the “gut through it because I only had four narrow windows each week for runs. But somehow, we made it through, and race day made it well worth the effort required.
As I embark on the familiar territory of starting to run again, you’d think that it would be easier this time. I know what to expect. I know my best times of the day to run, and the proper way to eat and hydrate. I’ve run much faster and further with considerably less effort. But for some reason, starting over today seemed harder.
During the last several months, it has become clear that it’s time once again to lace up our shoes and prepare for parenting the next round of teenagers (the oldest of our younger crowd is twelve). And as we embark on this second round of parenting teens, you’d think that we’d be better prepared for an easier experience. We’ve covered similar territory before. We know what to expect. Which may be why it feels daunting this time… but for very different reasons.
Thankfully, what I’ve lost through the years in terms of energy and brain cells, I’ve gained in other areas. Although this is the section where you might expect the “now we’re wiser and more prepared,” well… here is what is different: This time around, I’m more aware of my selfishness and the reality that I do indeed have a personal agenda. I’m less sure of the answers, and more curious about the questions. And most importantly, I have a glimpse of my general tendency to parent out of my own strength and wisdom. The challenge this time isn’t getting it right. It’s acknowledging that I can’t.
No doubt, we made a multitude of mistakes the first time around. And my guess is that we’ll make a whole new batch of mistakes with this second opportunity. But I’ve come to believe that the goal is not to be the perfect parent, but rather to become a diligent pupil of the Ultimate Teacher. And in doing so, I hope to slow down and enjoy the scenery of the everyday. To focus less on the finish line, the adults that we hope our teens will become, and focus more on the gift of each step along the way. Even the accidental rabbit trails I wouldn’t have chosen, unexpected obstacles in the path, and weary muscles are a gift. They are a necessary part of the process, and will eventually be absorbed into our larger lives’ stories.
As dormant muscles are reawakened, healthier patterns are established, and the initial shock to the system ushers in a “new norm,” my hope is that:
- I’ll be less likely to gauge my progress by the apparent pace of those around me
- I won’t take one step for granted – even on the hardest of days
- I’ll be mindful of the Source of all true wisdom, energy, and direction, and will parent accordingly
I’ll count it an honor and a privilege to run this race…the second time around