Since we're about to launch our firstborn into adulthood (he'll be 18 in 3 weeks), I've been thinking a lot about what defines successful parenting. You know, when they were very little, just surviving to the end of the day felt like a tremendous accomplishment, what with all the mortal dangers lurking everywhere--tiny things they could put in their mouths and choke on, electrical outlets beckoning little fingers, invisible germs on their hands, traffic in the street next to the park where we played. And then, a few years later, just surviving all of our schedules felt like success--getting everyone where they needed to be with at least one parent in the bleachers or the pews or the hard school cafeteria chairs to cheer them on. Now that Mowgli's about to leave us, though, and go out into the real world far, far away from home, I want a little more for him than just survival.
I realized this week that to understand the blessing of successful parenting, I need to go back into my own childhood, where I was cared for and cherished and encouraged by parents who really loved me and even liked me. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I was mired in an ugly funk, feeling down and icky and saying mean things to myself about myself, mean things I would never say to anyone else, and that's when I realized: they don't stick. I can say the really mean things in my head, thinking I really mean them, but they don't take root in my heart because my parents' love--unconditional and unwavering--created a barrier of truth around it. "Love covers a multitude of sins."
This is what I hope we've done for our children: poured enough love into and around and through their lives that the ugliness of the world and the condemnation of others and the uncertainty of their own minds will never overpower it or crowd it out. That and a few thousand dollars in college tuition are about all we have left to give. I know from experience that it's enough.