Parenting a college student is a different stage and requires different parenting skills and perspectives. Sarah Butler and occasional guest bloggers will share some insights to help you on the journey. You're not alone!
By Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member
Pictures take me back to important moments. One treasured image captures my daughter at about age three, sitting in “time out.” We were in the side yard by the blow up kiddie pool but she was in a folding chair instead of in the water. It was a sunny day but the air between us was far from warm. Her resolute frown and the pint-sized arms crossed over her chest tell that day’s story. It’s important to me to remember that early parenting wasn’t all smiles at birthday parties, family fun, and happy holidays. There were also disaster days, family flare ups, and Christmas crises. I need to be able to look back and recognize that parenting didn’t always go the way I planned.
I also need to remember that my actions were often a part of the problem. In fact, there were times that I needed a parenting time out, too. I admit it. Even now, with young adults in and out of the nest, there are moments when I am the one with the pouty lip and the scowling brows. Those are usually the times when I’m thinking to myself, “I can’t believe she did that!” or “It seems so obvious to me, why is he so oblivious?” and “When will they grow up?” My decades-older perspective sets me up to think that my grown children should get what I get, think how I think, and appreciate what I appreciate.
I read the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting in preparation for parenting, only to realize later that no book could instill the essential element of experience. Parenting toddlers doesn’t come with a foolproof handbook—neither does parenting teens—or twenty-somethings. Sometimes I still need a time out, not because I’m in trouble (although I am totally capable of getting myself in a pickle), but because my kids are in trouble and I need to remember… Only instead of recalling things about my children’s younger years, I need to envision a snapshot of my own younger self.
When I take time out to pray for wisdom before I press ahead, I find myself reflecting on myself at their age and asking some key questions. What helped me recover when I made a poor choice or experienced failure? What did my parents do right? Would those be good step to take now? Quite honestly, I did better when my folks didn’t overemphasize my mistakes. I was hard enough on myself. When they asked about me, rather than the mishap, I was more likely to trust their counsel. “How are you doing with that disappointment?” felt like compassion. On the contrary, “What are you going to do about that mess?” felt like shaming. They offered support when they asked, “How can I come alongside?” When they pointed out, “That was a bad choice, you know,” they served up judgment. Looking back, I lived with the consequences of my choices either way but when my parents helped me figure it out rather than rubbing it in, I made more headway.
If I’m taking off from my own driveway, I put the car in reverse first, before I put it in drive so I don’t destroy the garage by mistake! Similarly, I need to look behind me in order to make the right move forward. If I’m disappointed by my young adults but manage to walk away from my own attitude long enough to remember what it was like to have less experience, to lack a sense of my own mortality, and to have limited hindsight, I respond differently. I’m much more likely to wait to be asked for counsel than to offer unwanted advice.
A parenting time out also helps me remember what I already know about my own kids. I know my daughter’s love languages include words of encouragement. Like me, she makes more headway with affirmation than correction. My choice of words can be life giving or destructive. I know my son learns best from his own experience. As hard as it is to watch sometimes, I have to quit trying to protect him from the tough stuff and be ready to offer support when he’s working through the fallout.
The kiddie pool is long gone but hard lessons are long lasting. Sometimes we just need a time out. When I step back into reflection before I step forward into action, I make wiser, more prayerful choices. Starting out by looking behind gives me a better vantage point for parenting.
"Pondering-in" the New Year
By Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member
I am introspective by nature. I have learned to appreciate the ability to think deeply as a rich gift--and as a potential stumbling block. Blessings come when thoughtfulness leads me to a deeper understanding of others or when an "aha" moment brings personal growth. However, since reflection is second nature, roadblocks to thinking things through have the potential to launch me into overload mode.
Christmas brought the contrast into focus this year. This was only the second Christmas in 26 years that didn't require travel across four or more states in winter weather. The lack of white-knuckle driving left me more relaxed, with plenty of time for contemplating the early years with kids. I remembered the challenge, and the overwhelm, of splitting holiday time equitably between two families, juggling naps in a different time zone, and settling toddlers down in unfamiliar beds. I was left with little margin for thinking clearly, let alone being introspective. In comparison, this year I loved being able to worship at my own church, having adult children preparing desserts, and sleeping in just a bit on Christmas morning. Circumstances did not snatch away my ability to savor the moment. The day was still and spacious enough to have time to think--even ponder over the events that were unfolding.
In meditating on the familiar story in Luke chapter 2, one Mary-moment captured my attention in a new way this year. It struck me that the precious little family experienced the antithesis of a quiet Christmas. Mary and Joseph didn't have a choice but to travel under the worst of circumstances. Grossly pregnant, the conditions were anything but comfortable for Mary and when they finally arrived, the accommodations were far from luxurious. The bed was worse than unfamiliar--it was miserably non existent! Mary faced fear alongside excrutiating pain, with no medical attention, unsanitary conditions, and only Joseph to care for her needs in childbirth. I imagine the cries of a first-time mother in labor, followed by the wailing of her newborn catching his first breath, and joined by a great company of noisy angels, filling the night sky with such a cacophony that the shepherds were driven to join the commotion. In my mind's eye I see these raggamuffin strangers showing up in the middle of the night, contributing to these most unusual circumstances. And yet, Luke tells us in Chapter 2, verse 19, that in response to all this revelry, "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. In the midst of it all, she sought a quiet space in her soul for reflection.
I realized that Mary was a deliberately and intensely thoughtful woman. She could have been easily overwhelmed by the circumstances, but because she knew that the Lord was not only the orchestrator of the event but also resting in her arms, she could be fully present to drink in the wonder of the moment, lock in those memories, and ponder that the God of creation chose her to parent this most precious of babes. She met the intensity of the events at hand with the intentionality of her introspection.
New Year's Eve found me celebrating the wedding of my dearest friend's daughter. I enjoyed the privilege of lending a hand in the preparations and noted the giant collection of noise makers that would be used to ring-in the New Year. Even with a boisterous band turning up the tunes and guests blowing horns, we couldn't have even come close to what the angels must have sounded like. And yet, more than once, I caught a glimpse of the mother and father of the bride capturing a quiet moment to dwell richly in the full meaning and splendor of this once-in-a-lifetime event.
I certainly can't hold a candle to Mary, and I didn't just pull off a family Christmas celebration and my daughter's wedding in the same week. In fact, I needed a quiet Christmas to be able to focus on--and to ponder--the Lord's gifts to me in this moment in time. Chief amongst them are my two adult children, whose thoughtfulness this Christmas was quite remarkable. It's tempting to think that the parenting milestones to celebrate are all behind us, but I speculate that each upcoming year has the potential to be transformational. My children's arrival into adulthood might bring the necessity of travel at Christmas or there might be new people at my table soon! Now it is their turn to settle into the years with the biggest decisions of their lives--choosing where to work, finding a place to live, discovering if there would be a marriage partner or children, and discerning how to serve others with their gifts and talents. I feel convicted to pray--again--about growing in my role as a mom of grown children.
I'm hoping that despite the commotion of the new year, I'll be able to truly focus on the Lord at work in and through my now-adult children. Rather than miss the years gone by, I'm taking a cue from Mary to treasure the moments, be fully present wherever I am, and pray for a peaceful heart so I can be fully aware of the Lord at work in my circumstances. I don't need more revelry to "ring-in" 2017. I am resolving, instead, to "ponder-in" the new year.
By Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member
We have witnessed a remarkable fall season in Minnesota with record-breaking warmth. It only took us 116 years to beat our record! For goodness sakes, William McKinley was president the last time we had a first frost this late in the season. My garden clean-up was finished before snowfall for the first time in years and my son volunteered to get the Christmas lights up when he could still accomplish the task in shirtsleeves! I couldn’t imagine a more glorious fall…until I read another perspective. Brad Hawthorne, an ice fishing guide on Lake of the Woods along the Canadian border was featured in a Pioneer Press article titled “Minnesota’s Outdoors Businesses Sweating.” Brad reported that last winter he was still running boats on open water mid-December and rescheduling ice-fishing reservations to post-Christmas dates. This promises to be another season of losses for Brad. From his point of view, the extended warmth is a cause for concern, not celebration. With a livelihood tied to cold-weather sports, no winter means no paycheck.
“It’s all a matter of perspective” is true for more than the seasonal weather. Our remarkable fall also collided with a challenging election season and an unusual season opening for the Vikings. Both voter and fan responses ranged from elation to agony. Regardless of your favorite weather, who you voted for, or whether you are a Vikings fan, we’ve all lived through each of those events—just not all in the same way. Depending on our personal circumstances, our approach to any season, including the seasons in our lives, can be entirely different.
Sometimes living through events can be mostly about survival. When living joins the preposition through, as in “to get past or beyond,” (thank you Dictionary.com) our goal is to press hard to the escape hatch. That approach might epitomize your Thanksgiving with extended family, your current job, or your battle with a serious illness. I admit that when facing the greatest challenges of my life, it has been my first instinct to put my head down and barrel through. How often I have prayed, “Lord, just give me what it takes to get through this one!” What’s sad for me is that this tough-it-out mentality has sometimes applied to seasons with my kids when I might have looked at life from a different perspective. To live through two-year-old tantrums was, at times, all about endurance and not enough about enjoying this fleeting time with my children. Getting to the other side of my son’s recovery from major jaw surgery was pretty humorless, when in hindsight there was a lot of laughable moments in his 12 weeks of liquid meals. Living through unemployment with a tuition bill for college often meant being scrappy and resourceful instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to pray with my young man about watching for God’s provision. There are times I could have chosen a better approach.
From a different vantage point, it can also be far too easy to live through our children as if their lives are the center of our own. This is where dad’s dreams of baseball get lived out in pressure for his son to play. This is where mom’s healing from mean-girl bullying puts too much focus on her daughter’s social status. This is where past regrets about not applying ourselves in school turns into hounding our students about their academic performance. This is where living joins the adverb through, defined as “having no interruption, obstruction, or hindrance,” which suggests a continuous (maybe too pervasive?) presence in our children’s lives. When we choose this approach, we risk setting ourselves up for disappointment when our students remove themselves from the center of our attention. After a season of independence on campus, they are likely to be looking forward to less relational dependency. I’m conscious as Christmas approaches, that if we are living through our kids in this sense, we may have unrealistic expectations for their engagement with us over the holidays.
Is there a more positive way to live through? I recently expressed to my son that I am not interested in living my life waiting for the tough part to be over—for either of us. Living through does not have to be about just getting to the other side of his challenges—or mine. Neither am I inclined to hold either of us back by holding on too tight. Living through does not need to mean that I derive my success or satisfaction from my children’s life choices. Life is happening NOW, and regardless of the circumstances, today is the day I am living in—and living it in my own skin. What if I choose a perspective that allows living to happen in the same space with through, as in “thoroughly; through the whole extent of; in all respects; from beginning to end”?
What I aspire to is living, in relationship with my kids, through whatever circumstances life is presenting to us today. I am choosing to offer (rather than impose) my presence in supporting my children’s passions and healing from their pain. I hope to invite realistic expectations to live alongside my investment in the present moment. When the election threatens to divide our country, I want to be fully present, praying for God’s hand at work in all circumstances, not waiting for it to be over. I want season tickets to the game whether my team is winning or losing. When Christmas comes, I will be fully present for whatever time we are together so I don’t miss the joy in living through this season with my family.