“Mom!” my son yelled from upstairs.
“Come up here, I’m done packing!
He met me at the top of the stairs with a huge grin on his face. He had been looking forward to our annual Thanksgiving trip all week and now that we were one day closer he couldn’t contain his excitement.
His still pudgy little hand grabbed mine and practically dragged me to his room at the end of the hall.
“I did it all by myself!”
As we rounded the corner into his room I could see his suitcase, piled high with all the things he wanted to bring on our four-day trip to Los Angeles.
“Can you help me close it?” he looked up at me with his big brown eyes as only a hopeful four-year-old could.
“Well let’s see what you got in there first. We may have to move somethings around.”
To his credit he did include some of the essentials like socks, underwear, pajamas and a stack of t-shirts taken straight from his drawer. Also included in the stack were two stuffed animals, a few books and of course his blankie.
“You did a great job buddy. Did you pack any shorts?”
“Yep, one pair at the bottom!”
“Well I know we’re going to have to pack your nice clothes for Thanksgiving dinner. Can I put those in there and move some things around so it all fits?”
“Sure Mom. I’m going to go check on Dad.” and off he ran.
Often new parents are surprised at how young our kids are when they start to make their preferences known. Not only did my son want to show how grown up he was by packing his own suitcase, but he also wanted the control to make sure the things HE wanted were packed. He was going away from home and he wanted to make sure he had the things that were important to him.
Our kids also know from an early age that they can express their true self through their clothing. You may buy their clothes but if they don’t like the color or texture or pattern, you may find that it ends up left in the drawer at the end of the week. Naively I thought it wouldn’t be until the teenage years that my kids would start to assert their clothing preferences, but it actually started happening about ten years before.
So, what’s a parent to do? Many parents feel this is one of those instances where you pick your battles situation - is it worth the stress and anguish to argue over the color of a shirt? Probably not, so we give in and allow our kids to start picking their own clothes according to their own style.
Now, in keeping with the travel theme, I want to give you another scenario to think about:
The calming, steady hum of the jetliner did nothing to curb my excitement. Sitting in an airline seat with only yourself to worry about is better than your favorite present on Christmas Day. When you’ve traveled with little kids, you appreciate the tranquility of traveling alone.
My excitement was building because once the plane landed, I was going to do something I had never done before. I was traveling thousands of miles, alone, to spend the weekend with a group of people I had only chatted with on Facebook. It was both nerve-wracking and exciting to me. As I sat restlessly in my seat, I was reminded of the saying “It’s the journey, not the destination.” How could the time in the plane was more important than attending than the parenting conference that waited for me once we landed?
I thought about all the people on the plane. Everyone on the flight was traveling for a different reason. We all had our own plans, our own way of arriving at our final destination, wherever and however that may be. At no point did anyone on the flight turn to the person across the aisle and say, “I know you have your own plans, but I really think you should come with me because my plans are better than yours.” That would be ridiculous, right?
But how often to do we do that to our children (or our spouse/family/friends), coaxing them in the direction we think is right? We think we are being helpful. We think since we have been down this road before, it is our duty to share our wisdom, so the same mistakes aren’t made. But what if they need to see it for themselves so they can experience it, learn from it and then grow in their own unique way?
Mentally we know it is the journey that counts, but it is often difficult to remember when we are in the middle of our road or watching someone stumble their own road. We look for ways to make the journey easier. We look to alleviate the pain or challenges we might face along the way. As much as we tell ourselves it’s about the journey, it’s challenging not to be in a hurry to get to the destination.
We have the best intentions for our kids. We believe we know what they should pack and where they should be headed. It’s hard for us to remember our kids are on their own journey. Our instinct is to persuade them to go towards a destination of our choosing, instead we must give them the tools to follow their interests. We worry if they don’t do things the way we think they should, they won’t be successful. But on the flip side, if they follow what they think we want, they won’t be staying true to who they are. This may be the hardest thing we have to do as parents, we love our children and we think we know what is best for them, but in the end it is their journey and we are just a friendly guide along the road.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.