Every time I see this quote my knee jerk reaction is always the same: A moment of panic followed by screen shots of my life flashing before my eyes. And it’s never the highlight reel. It’s always the cutting floor. The scenes I wish I could delete and pretend never happened. I used to read it and think about how far I had to go. How much better I needed to be. That I wanted to be a perfect parent for them. But here’s what I want now: To be real. To be fully human; Which means flawed and messy and trying my hardest– but not perfect. Perfect isn’t real. Or true. Perfect is exhausting. A cruel task master. Perfect does not help my kids or anyone else in my life. Perfect makes my kids feel alone. Unworthy. Unacceptable. Unloved. Rejected. Abnormal. Perfect does nothing to help them grow and develop and come into their own. To love and enjoy life and other people. An expectation of perfect teaches my kids to perform instead of participate in life. It creates a fear of failure. Of even trying. A fear of never being good enough. The expectation of perfection for any of us creates an atmosphere of shame where we need to hide our true, imperfect selves. Barf.
If I’m living way up in my ivory tower, polishing away so that my kids have an “ultimate example” to follow, then what I am NOT is a safe harbor for them; For their mistakes, their struggles, their confessions, their true selves. Instead, I’m a judge. I’m a critic. I’m a master of performance and image and they become my slaves. And sometimes it means I’m silently holding them to a standard I have yet to meet. They need to see some cracks in my facade. They need to see me mad, watch me cry, hear me swear, hear me pray. Struggle with life in all it’s pain and glory. All in the same day. And listen- please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about inappropriately allowing my kids to see parts of my life that are not meant for their young hearts and minds. But I AM talking about allowing them to know parts of me and my story that ARE appropriate and relevant to them: The 22 and 16 year-old NEED to hear me tell them that their bodies will want to have sex long before their hearts and minds are ready. They need to know there are times I’ve had too much to drink and how that went down. They need to know if I’ve ever used drugs and how I feel about it now. They need to hear about my young and foolish love stories. It’s how they come to know the real me– and it’s during these honest, awkward, sometimes embarrassing conversations that I come to know the real them. (Although the 11 year-old was once heard saying, “If you girl-chat me right now I will jump out of this moving car.” Um. Ok. So I tread a little lighter with her…)
Before our kids are barely a few months old, somehow parents latch onto this anxious notion of hoping and praying that our kids “turn out” right. And suddenly the drive for perfect parenting, that will in turn produce perfect kids, is born. But what does that even mean? For a kid to “turn out” right? That he doesn’t go to jail? That he goes to a great college? Perfect SAT scores? If he works at McDonald’s, did he still “turn out”? I’ve got news for you: We are all, each one of us, authors of our own story. There is no “turning out”. . .I have my story, you have your story, and our kids will each have their own story. Some chapters will be better than others. There will be nail biters and page turners. Chapters we want to re-live, chapters we wish we could burn. Chapters we only dream of that never quite materialize. But our stories are life long, epic tales. If I were to judge mine right this minute, I quite possibly have not…turned out.
Ruining your life is actually kind of hard to do. This thing called life is pretty resilient. And so let this now be my example: Fail. Regroup. Repeat. Fail. Regroup. Repeat. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. So say no to the bad things and yes to the good things– and when you get the two confused, double back and fix it. Choose all over again. Make a thousand mistakes and own every single one of them. Say you’re sorry. Be brave. Be kind. Live hard. Love God. Love the people around you. THAT is life abundant. THAT is living. And the bottom line is this: YOU ARE OKAY. Today. Just as you are. You are okay. You are on a life- long adventure and so am I. It’s okay to not care about sports. You don’t have to be good at everything. But it’s okay if you are, too. It’s okay to like things that no one else likes. It’s okay if sometimes you’re cranky. Or cry for no reason. To wrestle with jealousy. And temptation. Or if you sometimes have weird thoughts you don’t really understand. It’s okay to be a Yankees fan. (Just kidding. No it’s not. Please be anything but a Yankees fan.) Fail. Regroup. Repeat. I hope that’s my example.
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” F. Scott Fitzgerald