I’ve had this blog title for months on the list of things I want to write about and now realize I have been subconsciously resisting it. Anyone who has lived with me or worked closely with me already knows why. I’m writing today about my own weakness. I tend to fill up the margins of my books and my life. I overcommit and I over schedule. One of the hardest things in parenting is seeing your own flaws showing up in the lives of your children. I have quoted my grandmother here before but it bears repeating, “More is caught than taught.” At least one of my children ‘caught’ this malady from me.
I used to say, “If life is a cow, I want to milk every udder.” It’s not a bad philosophy in the sense that it says embrace life, be adventurous, you can never have too many friends, try new things, keep learning, gain all you can from each experience, be completely honest, feel things – bad or good. It is a bad philosophy in the sense that one cannot and should not milk a cow constantly. Just ask my mom who did it every day before school. There’s more to living a life than getting milk.
I wrote earlier this year about the importance of reflection before resolution. Some amount of time must be devoted to thinking, pondering, wondering, especially if we ever expect to make changes or create anything new. I ran into an artist friend yesterday who recently lost a loved one and this is what she said, “I had my first creative thought this morning in seven weeks.” Why is that? Because for the last seven weeks she has been doing the hard work of grieving. And it is work. Grieving takes time and space.
So here is what I wish I had learned earlier and modeled better for my own children. You cannot fill every moment of the day with people and activity, even when it is all good. Teenagers need sleep, outdoors, family time, and church in adddition to the schoolwork, sports, extra curriculars and social lives they are living. That means saying ‘No’ to some things. (That was the word I couldn’t seem to say for so long in my life.) With so many ways to stay connected to each other through social media, today’s young people have even more ‘chatter’ competing for their attention than we did.
I read a good book this summer, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazero. In it he says, “One of the great task of parenting and leadership is to help othesr accept their limits.” I don’t often want to talk about limits with teenagers in the sense of academics or interests as they still are exploring and figuring what they like and who they are going to be. I’m a big believer in a liberal arts education for this reason and told both of my children, “You’ll figure out a major once you get to college and start studying a few subjects.” Who really knows in high school what they want to be doing when they are forty years old? But these are not the kinds of limits I’m talking about here.
What I’m still trying to conquer and teach my adult children (perhaps a little late) is about leaving margins in our lives. We must leave time for the unexpected. (It will happen) Have you ever felt a cold coming on and thought, “I don’t have time to be sick!” We must leave space to think, to wonder, to serve someone in need, to be a good friend, a good son or daughter. We need to leave space to fix mistakes (They will happen). We need space to recover from traumas, to grieve, to do the quotidian tasks of living. I’m definitely a proactive person, and yet things happen everyday to which I must react. Do I have a margin for that? One of my fears for my children as they left the nest was that they might not have a realistic picture of the time it takes to wash their clothes, get their own meals, run their own errands – all those things that moms do when teenagers schedules are busy.
Though my tendency is still to milk every udder to the last drop, my life is teaching me that constant milking is not healthy. We need blank spaces; we need margins in our lives.