Every now and then someone comments on the way I use punctuation and certain grammatical choices. Sometimes, someone might mention that I use ellipses way too often, or that I use quotation marks in odd ways. I have one friend that says my use of exclamation marks drives her crazy, “Not everything can be that exciting or need that much emphasis. If it’s all important, then none of it’s important.” (My paraphrase.) Others might mention that my use of italics or a random hyphen helps them to hear my voice in their mind, imagining my pauses or facial expressions as I comment. And lately I’ve been using emojis or gifs. If you read from my actual blog page, it’s just a whole other level of conversation. A well placed gif feels like communication gold. I’m more than aware that my casual tone is far from grammatically correct.
The other day someone described parenting as parenthesis. I loved it. Parentheses (used in pairs) provide additional information. The contents between these curved brackets might be a single word, a fragment, or multiple complete sentences. The material inside the parentheses isn’t necessarily integral to the surrounding content. You should be able to remove the parenthesis and all they, hold and still have a complete thought/whole story. Parentheses contain bonus material, enhancing the narrative. They add color, additional context, tangential thoughts…so many extras that can enhance the story. But they are not the story. Our children are a portion of our narrative, an important, but bracketed, insert into our story. And likewise, we are a parenthetical portion of their story. A super important part, a part we are accountable for, but still, only a part.
I often tell the boys, “I am accountable for what kind of parent I choose to be, but I cannot control what kind of men you want to be.” I am situated in a set of parentheses of their story. Why is this important? For so many reasons.
Through this month I want to share several points around this idea of (Parenting). (Intentional misuse of parentheses) As I began to write thought after thought emerged, so enjoy this stroll through my mind as a parent.
Til next post, answer this…if you had to describe your life right now (kids or no kids) using a punctuation or grammatical marking, what would it be?
(Parenting) – Post 2 of 9
One, I have seen countless families, amazing families, with several sets of kids, and each of those kids, oddly enough, has a unique way of describing their upbringing. Rarely are two stories alike, even within the same household. I have met people and thought, “These people were probably the most amazing parents ever.” Only to learn that they had one adult child not speaking to them and another that sings their praises. Just as so much goes into how we interpret our own story, how we decide to respond to family; just as much will go into our kid’s version of their childhood and how they decide to engage as adults. Recognizing that, while I can influence how my kids view my parenting, I cannot control it. They may say, “Hi, my name is Kyle. (I had wonderful parents.) Here is my story.” or it might be, “Hi, I’m Parker. (my parents were the worst.) This is my life…”
I can only try to manage what is in my parentheses.
(Parenting) -Post 3 of 9
Two, I worry so much. As soon as I got pregnant I started reading parenting books. I read the ones about little kids and the “What to expect” book, but I also read articles and books on what made adults healthy. My kids came out of the womb to a mother that was beyond paranoid about what kind of 30 year old they would be. While some of my friends were freaking out about the things that can happen to an infant or toddler, or about kidnappings or lost children, I’m just thinking, “How do we need to set them up to manage money well? What do we need to do to make sure they are good husbands?” I had them reading Financial Peace and The Five Love Languages during their elementary summers. I was ridiculous. I was not thinking, “Am I doing what I can to be the best parent I can in this moment?” but more “Am I doing all the things right so they will turn out exactly as I think they should?” Recognizing I can only manage my own parenthesis is both freeing and kinda terrifying. Life, girlfriends, friends, bosses, coaches, teachers, pastors…they will all influence the boys, and while I’m a believer that parents still have the largest level of influence (for better or for worse), it’s still simply that, influence. We can only manage so many factors, we cannot control all the things.
(Parenting) – Post 4 of 9
Three, my kids are not my life. I had a story before. I have a crazy story during. And I will have a story after. They are parenthesis in my life just as much as I am in their lives. I also feel like our children learn much more from how we write our own story then all the ways we instruct them to write theirs.
A while ago, sitting at a friend’s house we asked the boys, “If you had to say ‘My mom/dad stood for/was all about ____________.’ what would you say.” We cracked up at their responses. None of them were things Sal or I can remember lecturing them about, or really even telling them. The stuff they said are not reflected in the quotes I have hanging in their rooms, or in stuff I’ve even written about. They have entirely different lessons from our lives than what we would have guessed. Not bad stuff, still great principles, but not what we expected, and as I considered why, it came back to recognizing that they are observing how we live so much more than that we say. Stop and consider that for a moment. Not that we shouldn’t spend time talking and teaching, but perhaps consider how they watch you treat other family members, or that random person at the grocery store, how they hear you talk while on a work call, or what you say about church people or your boss. What about how you manage your money or practice your faith? What are those things teaching, because there is a high likelihood that is what they are picking up. My kids, during their parenthesis time with me, will learn what I think a relationship with God looks like, how I believe people should be treated or talked about, and how to treat my own body and mind. So when I make my kids my life, I may not actually be focused on reflecting the things I’m hoping they will immolate.
I would imagine most parents want their kids to grow up to help and serve others. Do they see that from us?
I would imagine most parents want their kids to visit them when they are adults, to treat them with respect, to honor them, etc. So how are we doing with our own parents?
I would imagine we want our kids to believe in themselves and have amazing goals and dreams. But it’s easy for us to stop dreaming.
Moms want their little girls to learn to love and care for their body, they want their sons to be respectful and chivalrous, which seems best learned when mirrored at home.
If all we have is this parenthesis time what are we doing to reflect a life worth repeating?
(Parenting) – Post 5 of 9
Four, parenthesis highlight a separation, a beginning and and end. When the boys get frustrated with a rule, a limitation, or boundary we set, sometimes I will tell them, “I am responsible for you for this portion of your life. When you are responsible for yourself you can make different decisions, but until then I’ve got to do this training thing for a little while longer.”
When they were little I would use my hands to reflect the time we had. I am now down to using my thumb and pointer finger to demonstrate the tiny bracket of time I have left. Their response has remained the same regardless of the length of time I’m reflecting, “That’s still SO LONG.” But it’s not. And we all know it’s not. This season (this short time) will come to an end.
Not only does that serve as a reminder to make good use of that time, if I’m being honest, during these teen years there have been a few moments where that reminder has been the only thing that keeps me sane. This too shall pass. Teen attitude will end. Messiness, eating everything in the house, the constant reminders and pushing them along, and driving everywhere, and having to pay for them…it will end. And yes, there is a little sadness with this, and I know “I will miss this,” but there are moments when I’m like “Lord Jesus thank you this is a season.”
Parenting in our parentheses does not last forever, both bittersweet and a dash of thank goodness at times.
(Parenting) – Post 6 of 9
Five, the mistakes I make, the damage I do when operating in my own struggles, can also be a parenthesis for them.
One of my favorite authors is Richard Rohr. In one of his teachings he remarks on childhood wounds, reminding us that yes, we all carry some level of baggage from our childhood. No one has a perfect childhood. But at some point, at some stage of life, we have to realize that baggage now belongs to us, and hopefully, in that ownership we decide to deal with those wounds and baggage rather than stay stuck. While some childhood wounds are certainly more complex than others, at the end of the day, regardless of the who or why of those life shaping influences, they are ours to heal or not.
I have yet to meet one adult that doesn’t have some type of issue from their childhood. My kids are experts in pointing out my mistakes. In fact, one of my sons has the same 5 instances he recites when reminding me of how difficult his childhood has been. And they are valid. I am not perfect. I can apologize. I can work on myself. But I cannot spend the rest of my life stuck in those moments (those mistakes). At some point the boys will have to decide how they want to manage their response to my mistakes, just as I have had to learn with my own parents.
Shape your hands like a set of parentheses. Picture the mess-ups, the harsh words, the moments that hurt from your own childhood. Now recognize that you are holding them. Those are your hands. What would you like to do with them? Our kids will have the same choices too. This is not a license to abandon our responsibility as parents, but a reminder that you are held by grace and so are your children.
(Parenting) – Post 7 of 9
Six, parenthesis contain an expression that is part of the story but they are not the story.
Recently I went through Round #234,928 of “Please clean up your room.”
Ya know how when other parents tell you something they told their kid to do, or not to do, and they share how their kid just didn’t, or did the opposite. And often they share these stories with a confused tone. And you’re confused too cause you’re thinking “So who is the parent here? How can they tell you what they will and won’t do!?” Fair question. One I have asked myself a dozen times, and one that can be retorted right back to me four times as often.
This day, just like so many other days, I asked for laundry to be done and rooms to be picked up by end of the day. I made the same request the next day, and the next. That third time I was a little more passionate, and that perhaps came across through sarcasm, tone, and my generally disgusted look. This particular offspring had picked up, but let’s be honest, not really. When I made my case (even though I pretend I’m the judge and jury in my parenting courtroom) I heard, “I am not like you. I do not clean like you. I do not think my room needs to look like you think it should look. I am not you.”
So many things I wanted to say back.
And while I have no doubt we cold chat for hours about the difference between allowing our children autonomy and abnegating parenting, in this particular moment (and each moment is very particular) he was right.
He is not me.
But what’s hard about parenting is that I feel the need and responsibility to guide, train and push him to develop habits and characteristics that I think will set him up for life. And that’s not a bad thing, but trying to balance that with letting him have the space to fail, learn for himself and develop his own identity is like beyond tightrope level walking. Still, he is not me. And I am not him. We are forever melded in so many ways, but none of them as a summary of who we each are. We are part of each other’s story, but we are not each other’s story.
Remembering we are a similar but not the same, connected but separate can help me clarify if I am trying to establish a mini-me versus loving the human God granted me this time (short time) with.
(Parenting) – Post 8 of 9
Seven, I am reminded to let my drama be my drama.
Recently my kids sent me a TikTok with a quote attributed to Elon Musk: “My children didn’t choose to be born, I chose to have children. They owe me nothing, I owe them everything.” I think they were surprised when I said that I essentially agree with this idea.
Many months ago I had put us all in family therapy (you can imagine their joy). In one of the exercises the therapist made a clear distinction. We were each going to share something we were struggling with in our family dynamic, something that was upsetting us personally. Then the boys would also share specific ways they thought Sal and I could help with their struggle. But while Sal and I could share our frustrations, we could not ask the boys to remedy them. We were the adults, and our therapist was clear to make sure we did not place something on our children that was not a child’s responsibility. As I’ve shared this concept with others I get mixed responses, but the general idea has so much merit.
It is not on my kids that I had a bad day at work. But it is my job to help them navigate their bad days. It is not on my kids to make me feel better or de-stress. But it is my job to help them learn to manage their stress as best I can. My wounds, my drama, my anger, my insecurities, none of these should be laid on my son’s shoulders. I am the parent, the coach, the guide…they are not my sounding board, my confidant, my counselors. It’s not that I can’t share moments in my life with them, or that I cannot be vulnerable with my kids, it’s simply that I cannot do so in a way that manipulates them into attempting to be a remedy.
I have my story (my drama) and they have their story (their drama). I get to be a part of helping them navigate the early portion of their story, but there is still an element of separation that I think benefits us both.
(Parenting) – Post 9 of 9
Eight, the fine line is real.
Just as two connected but separate thoughts are bonded through two thin slightly curved lines, navigating the thin line of parenting is tiring and often painful. Figuring out the pushes and pulls of parenting is not easy. The act of letting go is very rarely done in an instance. Persistently insisting on them developing our way is not beneficial either. Determining this slow release with training and equipping is so much more of an art than a science.
As I’m even sitting here typing this I was just anxiously yelled at about what I thought was trying to help. It’s such a thin line. They ask for advice, but not too much advice. They need responsibility but they also only have a short window to be a kid. Failure has valuable lessons, but we are also supposed to set them up for success.
The thin line that separates where our stories engage is not a steel barrier. It’s more like a cell membrane. Remember that thing learned about in physical science/biology class? Remember how the cell wall was the more rigid and protective layer that surrounds the cell membrane. (how amazing is this trip back to science class…who’s ready for the Magic School Bus moment?!) (And let me apologize to anyone that actually studies science for real, I know this is a sad oversimplification.)
Parenting has us pouring out, trying to also nourish ourselves, while also unavoidably receiving the blame, brunt and heartache as these kids of ours try to figure themselves out. So much goes between that thin space of their individuality and your responsibility of parenting. Give yourself grace when these thin lines get crossed. And stay close to Christ as you bounce around this parenthetical season of parenting. The idea from Matthew 6:33 of “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all things (including all parenting things) will be added,” is a solid parenting method.