In recent interviews, both Michelle and Barack Obama have said some variation of, “My children are my greatest accomplishments.” While I revere both of these extraordinary people, and I vehemently agree with almost everything they say, here’s where I beg to differ.
Our children are not our accomplishments. How we show up to parenting can be a point of pride for us. What we model for our kids is an important focus. The intention we bring to our relationships with them profoundly matters.
But we don’t own their accomplishments – or their failures. I, for one, am not taking responsibility or blame.
I adore my children. And there have been points in our relationships when my heart swelled with what I would have called pride. But today, I’d like to reframe that pride into love and admiration and inspiration. My kids teach me. Well, let’s face it, they school me. They eclipse me. They create, they perform, they show up, all in ways that I admire.
And I recognize that I have shaped them. Not long ago, I walked down the stairs behind Violet, and I noticed they put their hand on the wall as well as the railing to guide themselves as they went down the stairs, something I started doing after my Achilles surgery almost a decade ago when I wanted to be especially tender with my legs. There’s a mark on the wall where we both put our hands as we descend the stairs to the basement. Audrey gets giddy about self-development books and TED talks, and I see a mirror of my own personal development junkie in her.
These are affinities, threads of love, not my hands shaping the clay of their personalities and their expressions in the world. I smile at them, my heart opens around them, but I do not take credit for them.
In fact, I notice phases, mannerisms, decisions, and beliefs in them that I can trace directly to their teachers, our neighbors, public figures, or content we’ve consumed together. There are many sources of my kids’ inspirations and deterrents. I remember in the first year of my parenting being in a group with others stumbling through this house of mirrors we can call parenting. One of the parents in the group said, “I’ve realized that I’m not the only one who gets to parent my kid. Maybe there’s a small sting of loss in that truth, but there’s also enormous relief.” Amen to that sentiment.
I enjoy my children as the people they have become, and I am rapt about who they are becoming. I’ve sincerely felt the crushing pain of their struggles. I’ve felt that in my bones and in my soul. But those struggles are not mine – I did not produce them.
Yes, I have made choices about how I live and, consequently, how they live, and they’ve both flourished and suffered in the face of those choices. How they absorb, the sense they make of what they face – well, that’s just pure alchemy of genes, cultural conditioning, and inheritance that Dave and I both channel and contribute to. I’ve indeed ushered them through some mountains and valleys and offered my own translation services. But I know this as utter truth: If they are not in a place to hear me or receive what I’m offering, it bounces right off of them. Believe me, I’ve witnessed it – often while internally screaming, “But the solution is RIGHT HERE!” Yep: my solution, not theirs.
Do I give up? Am I washing my hands of these precious souls now that they’re both >18? Do I see what I’m doing in my parenting and my blossoming relationships with these adult beings as pointless? Not. At. All. I invest. I show up. I love. I stumble. I cry. I rant. I matter. But what I don’t do is own – them, their outcomes, their dreams, their truth.
I believe in my children. I believe in our connection, in our love – I’ll even say that more dramatically and with more flourish: I believe in our eternal love and connection. But I’m not buying the accomplishment story. Sorry, Michelle and Barack (and larger cultural conditioning): Return to sender on this one.