They say of parenthood that the days can go by so slowly, but the years go by so quickly.
Sounds right to me. It seems just a blink of an eye ago that I became a dad. Yet in some kind of weird time-warp way, it was actually 30 years ago that we welcomed our first child into this world. A few more blinks, and along came three more. All miraculous blessings, then and now.
And now the cycle begins again. Ever more miraculously, we welcomed our first grandchild into the world just a few weeks ago. This precious baby boy is now the center of our family’s universe, and he is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God, to be sure.
And yet I find something else quietly stirring deep inside me, moving me to spontaneous moments of tears and the deepest sense of gratitude and pure awe. It’s the unspeakable love and joy I feel for our first little baby girl, now fully grown, and a mom.
Parenthood begins anew. The torch is being passed on, and we all have new roles to fill. We have new hopes and fears, new aspirations and trepidations. At least I know I do.
As Father’s Day arrives this year, my mind swirls about in so many directions. I reflect with humility and gratitude for the work of my grandparents and parents, giving us the best home they knew how. I reflect on how my wife Mary and I tried to do the same for our children. And now how Jen and her husband will set out to do the same.
What wisdom might I try to impart as they begin their journey? What lessons have I learned? What wishes do I wish for them, for all of our children and grandchildren yet to come, for all new parents everywhere?
I guess this new title of “grandfather” gives me license to step out and offer a few bits of unsolicited advice. Though I prefer to think of these more as heartfelt wishes, gleaned from 30 eye-blinking years of parenting the best that I could.
1 – Begin with Love. As you already know, you really can’t help it. As the saying goes, to have a child is to have a big part of your heart walking around outside of your body for the rest of your life. – No matter what age your child is! Ask yourself each day, “How will I love today?”
2 – Accept imperfections. We are all perfectly imperfect. Make peace with that truth, and you’ll be a happier person, a happier parent, and enjoy happier children.
3 – Don’t always do the best you can. Do the best you can for this one thing in the time you have to do it. You’ll always have more to do than there is time to get everything done. So choose consciously. Be intentional with your time. Be clear about your priorities. And let “good enough” sometimes really be good enough.
4 – Understand that there is no such thing as work-life balance. It’s not so good to think of this “balance” thing as a noun. Better to think of it as verb. Balancing. It’s dynamic, always changing, and always requiring course corrections. Sometimes work needs more attention, sometimes family. Sometimes it’s your marriage, sometimes it’s your kids. And don’t ever forget, sometimes it needs to be yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have. So practice self-compassion first, and the rest will follow.
5 – Pause to savor the good. Take it in. Actively. See it. Speak it aloud. Take just a few minutes each day to reflect on 3 things you’re grateful for. Share it at dinnertime or bedtime. Or write it down in a gratitude journal. Remember, what you focus on, grows.
6 – Be honest, always. First with yourself. Then with your partner. Then with your children. Let them grow to appreciate the importance of open, honest, and trusting relationships, even when it’s hard.
7 – Know that your children will pay more attention to what you do, than what you say. But words count too. When you become – as you inevitably will – too impatient or angry or judgmental or anxious or controlling or (fill-in-the-blank), own it. Apologize earnestly. Set the intention to do otherwise next time. And move on.
8 – Practice forgiveness daily. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ll make. Forgive your children for the mistakes they will make. It’s the only way we learn. And forgive others (including grandparents!) who don’t understand or agree with all your parenting decisions. You are doing the best you can. But remember, so are they.
9 – Laugh. A lot. Make time and space to laugh together. It is truly the best medicine.
10 – Begin again. Each day is a new opportunity to love. To be present. To appreciate the good times. And rise to the challenges of the hard times. Allow yourself a fresh slate each day. Don’t hold grudges.
Always, we can begin again. You’ll see, in just a few blinks of an eye, how true that really is.