Ode To My Parents

“I’ve come to realize that making it your life’s work to be different than your parents is not only hard to do, it’s a dumb idea.” — Paul Reiser, Familyhood

Lucy is just three years old and Ben is only three months, but I already wonder about what kinds of choices they’ll make in life. How much control do I have in shaping those decisions? How much of the values I try to get across actually do? And how much will they absorb without me even realizing it?

My aim is to raise them to be independent thinkers, but what if they do everything the OPPOSITE of what Kim and I have done? And what does it mean if they do?

Interestingly, on the surface, it would appear as though I’ve completely veered away from many of my own parents’ choices:

  • After getting married, both of my parents started their life together just miles from where they grew up, and still live in the same town today. After we got married, Kim and I moved two hours away to a whole other state.
  • I grew up with my mom doing all the cooking in the house. Today, all of the cooking (and grocery shopping) is my job.
  • My two brothers and I were born in a hospital. Neither of my kids have been. (You can read Ben’s birth story here.)
  • My two brothers and I went to a traditional Catholic grade school. Kim and I are planning to home school.

These are just a handful of the decisions that Kim and I have made that turned out differently from those of my parents. And because I know those decisions were often made after much thought and with great sacrifice, I can only imagine that my parents must sometimes wonder, “What the hell?”

Surely it must seem to them that I think they made terrible choices.

But I am reminded of something our midwife once said, “When it comes to life, there are a thousand right ways.”

I think she’s right. Although many of the decisions Kim and I have made are quite different from those of our parents, they are weighted more heavily because they are so…visible. However, the invisible ones, the choices and values that make up the foundation of our marriage and our parenting, come directly from our parents and are completely unchanged. Here are a few:

Staying home with the kids. It was with great sacrifice for my parents to live on one income so my mom could stay home with us kids. They had to say no (to us and to themselves) to many things that they simply could not afford. But I lived the benefits of that decision, and it made such a big impact on me that Kim and I have committed to do the same. Although we share childcare duties, our decision to make sure our kids have a parent as a primary caregiver is non-negotiable.

Managing money. My parents have been expert stewards with their money. They limited debt and didn’t spend more than they made. Not only did their habits enable them to help us out when our business was struggling, but their example was something we modeled to help us get through lean times.

Communication with each other. My parents are famous for going on “rides.” They hop in the car, drive nowhere in particular, and just talk. They talk about everything. I grew up watching that, and knew it was important. Communication is the key to a happy and long-lasting marriage. It’s become the single most important ingredient in mine.

Discipline. I have absorbed many of my parents’ views on the importance of discipline, both in terms of raising children and in managing oneself. My brothers and I were always applauded by others for being so well-behaved. It was simply what was expected of us, but I know — especially now — that it didn’t come about by magic. I am stealing many of my parents techniques in the hope that my own kids will also be similarly commended by strangers. And in the “managing oneself” department, my dad is like Cal Ripken Jr, in that sick days may as well be non-existent. And the stick-to-itiveness that helped me to persevere for the five years before our business could support us? I learned that from him, too.

Of course, there are more. The importance of family, of doing the right thing even when no one is looking, of doing what you said you were going to do, of taking the time to appreciate what you have. These are all gifts that have been given to me by my parents.

So yes, there are many external choices that Kim and I have made differently from my parents. I like to think of them as alternative “right ways” to do things. But the big values — the most important things — those have and will always be the same.

And for that, Mom and Dad, I thank you.

Lucy and Ben thank you, too.

P.S. Yes, that is Lucy picking her nose. Thanks for noticing.

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  1. I believe there is one truth, but when it comes to how to live life, there are tons of good choices. I totally love this! Thank you!

    • values don’t change, but how to live with those values does! That’s what I’m trying to say! I LOVE your values and we strive for the same ones.

  2. Minette says:

    I know you never want to “grow up” per se, but it takes someone who has really “grown into” the person they are to fully appreciate what lessons people have taught them in the past. God has blessed you with two wonderful parents – and blessed THEM with some wonderful kids and grandkids. (Even the ones that pick their noses…smile) Thanks for the reminder about values and how we unconsciously teach others (not just kids) in the way we live our lives each day.

    • Good points, Minette. Will you please promise to email Lucy when she’s 16 to remind her how blessed she is? That would be great ;)

      • Minette says:

        I promise – though I can’t promise she will listen to me! :-)

  3. Connie says:

    I love the comment “there are a thousand right ways.” It’s a great way to look at things! It’s easy to follow standard procedure, and copycat the “norm.” However, the norm doesn’t work for everyone, nor should it. A difference of beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes is what makes the world a unique place. It would be boring if we were all the same! You were raised by wonderful parents, and in turn you have become awesome parents. It’s not so much how you do things, it’s more why. You must ask yourself “why am I doing this?” As long as the answer is “because I love my children,” then you are doing it for the right reason every time!

    • Thanks Connie! Couldn’t agree more. I truly believe that the question, “Why?” is among the most powerful questions around.

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