“I don’t think you should force me to do things I don’t want to do,” my daughter told me as I grabbed her phone and replaced it with her math homework.
“I wouldn’t have to force you if you would do it willingly,” I reminded her.
“Shouldn’t it be my decision?” She asked.
“Not when you are fourteen years old,” I answered distractedly as I removed the groceries from their bags and shoved them into the refrigerator.
“Don’t you want me to be happy?”
“Of course, but that is not my main goal for you.”
“What is your goal for me?”
And that is when all my logic and love and parenting expertise failed me. I am an experienced parent. I know things. So why is my fourth child stumping me with these hard questions?
What is my goal for her? I want her to be happy, but I’m smart enough to know that happiness alone is not the goal. Possible answers ran through my mind: to be nice, to be smart, to be good, to do good, to change the world, to be the best version of herself, to love those around her and be loved in return. All good things, but not the right thing.
My breath caught and my heart missed a few beats as a terrifying thought struck me: I can’t have a goal for her. None. Any goal I pick for her, or any other person, is not going to work at all. The weight of it will crush her and cause her to resist it and resent me. And my unmet expectations will cause stress in me to the point of removing my own hair by forceful pulling. A stress, sadly, I have already begun to feel.
Who am I to go around setting goals for other people – even if they are my children? The only goal I can have that will work at all has to be for me. So here is my goal for myself: to parent in such a way as to equip my children with all the skills necessary for them to succeed as adults. I have to be able to live with the way I have parented and feel no regret. I will ensure that they are set up to thrive mentally, spiritually, and physically. The rest – all of it – is up to them.
So, sweet girl, I understand now that you will need to choose your own goal. I admit that it fills me with fear to let you do such a thing because I am scared you will pick a goal I don’t like.
Ninety-nine percent of life will not be affected by this revelation, but the one percent that will be affected is shockingly important. I don’t know how I went this long without seeing it. Almost none of my actions will be different, but almost all of my motivations will. I am not doing this for you. This is for me. I am parenting the way I feel I need to in order to fulfill my goal for myself. You are off the hook. Which basically changes everything.
I know that as your goal for yourself becomes more developed, our goals may conflict with each other. I pray they align, but I know they won’t always, and, certainly, this will incite times of strife between us. I will try my best to navigate the situation with love and patience. I will fail often, and I’m sorry about that. This is hard.
But I promise to always let love win.
Now stop asking me such hard questions.