What Dolphins Taught Me About Parenting
I abhor everything seafood. Yet the pungent stench of dead fish didn’t have the power to assault my senses. The view was breathtaking. This first-time experience had me spelled bound.
I was standing at the end of a wooden pier – the ocean to my right, a river to the left. I was fascinated by the chasm between what was going on, on either side of me. Calm-reckless, loud-soft, sand-land, rough-smooth; all I had to do is turn one hundred and eighty degrees to experience a different world. I’m not sure if I can remember the last time I was so spellbound. I wanted time to stand still so I could savor this experience.
My perception of life and the world around me was being deeply impacted – just like the birth of my two children. Then it hit me – Missy and Chad are as enormously different as the personalities of the river and the ocean. So often in life we wish time away, especially when parenting becomes choppy and rough. I wondered if my children’s playbook would read differently today if I had taught myself to slow down, look for opportunities in the middle of the ugliness, and understand that my children were masterpieces in progress. They needed my patience, attention, and guidance instead of my attempts to make time evaporate.
The truth is that in each phase of our children’s lives there are some unique tensions that want to make us pull our hair out! However they exist to spur own their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth so they can launch into adulthood successfully.
As I was reflecting on this thought, I caught a glimpse of unusual shapes in the water. Soon I realized that I was watching a small pod of dolphins, playing in the sunshine. I was beyond thrilled! I grabbed my cell phone to capture them and to my dismay realized that I was not ready for the moment I was anticipating since I arrived in Florida. My phone only had 2% battery life left. Now I was stressed by having to figure out how to cautiously use my phone. I tried to discern if they had a rhythm that would allow me to capture them just as they danced to the surface. I believed I had it figured out – I was poised to capture them – alas after two missed attempts, with my phone dying, I got a very poor picture of one dolphin’s fin re-entering the waters.
Hindsight? I should have given up my need to take a picture to enjoy what was unfolding in front of me. It instantly changed my experience and added stress. After all, the lens of my mind is a far better place to capture memories than the lens of my camera. Significant moments are truly unpredictable.
I remember being disappointed when I missed my children’s firsts – I wasn’t there when Chad took his first step or when Missy lost her first tooth… It does require us to be present in the insignificant moments to be ready to capture the significant moments. The best way to capture the dolphins playing would have been to continuously shoot pictures in hopes of capturing the right moment. Our children and playing dolphins have a lot in common.
If we want to experience the extraordinary with our children we must be present in the everyday ordinary.
To one day watch them take flight into a fulfilling career and find joy in adulthood, we must be attentive to capture those everyday opportunities that each phase of development presents for a successful launch.
Help your child discover and embrace their strengths and passions.
We started paying attention to what our son was attracted to when he was in preschool. We nurtured his interests and gave him opportunities to develop those interests through high school. As an adult he loves what he does. In contrast, I was too busy parenting our daughter and missed those opportunities to help her discover her gifts when she was young. It’s easy to get bogged down with routines that drain our energy and rob us of our time. Our children are hardwired to be unique! They are designed to have a one-of-a-kind purpose. While they are young, take the time to observe and discover their natural aptitudes, talents, and gifts. What are they passionate about? What catches their eye? What are they good at? Instead of trying to improve what they are weak at or casting a wide net to include all the things they’re good at, zoom-in on the top two things they’re passionate about and empower them to engage in those things. As they enter elementary and middle school have them take personality assessments. Seek advice on how best to help your child learn and grow in their strengths. Years later, you might be surprised at how easy it is for your children to narrow down what they want to do when they grow up!
Resist treating your child as an extension of you.
Just like our children are designed to be unique, so are we. My son’s interests are vastly different than ours. Your children may love to do things that drive you crazy or evoke fear because of your own past history. Take the time to discover your own uniqueness. Visit your fears and seek healing. Resist the urge to ask your children to avoid those things that don’t interest you or evoke negative feelings. If I had to act on my fears, our son would not be doing what he is doing now! He loves his career.
Find your tribe and encourage your child to find theirs.
Every child and parent needs a tribe. You might feel the urge to put off being part of one till your kids’ life slows down. Instead, make room in your busy schedule to find time for a community that becomes your village as you raise kids. Research shows that one of the many reasons kids drop out of college is because they struggle to find a community while away from home. Encourage your children at every phase of their lives to get out of their comfort zones and get involved. Pair their involvement with their growing interests and passions. Who your children choose to hang out with can greatly affect how big they dream, what they believe in and the opportunities they seek. An amazing adult and peer tribe can help them grow into their full potential.
Set a great example.
Your children are always watching you. Do you enjoy being a parent? Do you enjoy your work? Do they see you finding satisfaction and joy in what you do? Do they see you wasting time on things that don’t matter? Carve out time to do the things you enjoy and share those experiences with your family.
Yes, when you’re parenting the days seem so incredibly long. The truth is the years are too short and it’s your prime time to invest in your child’s future.
Do you want help identifying and embracing your child’s natural strengths and passions? I can help. Contact me today!