The Life You Are Meant to Live
When the Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him most about humanity, he answered:
Man! Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
A Moment in Time
“Screech” went the sound of my chair as it scraped across the hardwood floor. “That’s it! You blew your last chance!” I shouted at my younger son as I pushed myself away from the dining room table and went to stir the pumpkin rice that was bubbling on the stove. As I inhaled the aroma of the simmering curry chicken, I tried to calm down. I had been immersed in an algebra worksheet with my son for over an hour, and we were still only on problem three. What triggered me to anger was him mimicking my older son. Whenever I helped him with homework or attempted to explain a concept, especially math, he leaned back in his chair, fluttered his half-closed eyelids, and pretended to fall asleep. “He doesn’t care about his schoolwork, so why should I?” I muttered to myself as I stared at the multiple messages on my phone.
“Hold on a minute. Why do I have so many missed calls?” Alarm bells went off as the calls were from my siblings. My body responded before my mind could catch up. The curdling in my stomach told me it could only be one thing: something had happened to someone in my family, and they were calling to let me know. Whatever it was, I wasn’t ready for it.
I was almost fifty—ancient by my children’s standards, but still not wise enough. I certainly thought I would have figured out life by then, but, in many ways, I was more confused than ever before. As a mother of a young adult, a teenage daughter, and a teenage son, my most important role was to guide my children and get them to the point where they were ready to live the lives that they were meant to live. The only problem was I was no longer sure what those were or how to get them there. …
My life up until then had been relatively straightforward. I had followed what I thought was an easier path (at least compared to those my kids had planned). I got a degree, found a job, and launched my high-tech career. But here I was twenty-something years later, and what I wanted more than anything was not to be the “man” described by the Dalai Lama.
I had no time to enjoy the present or stare lovingly at my children’s faces because I was so overwhelmed by all the responsibilities that having a career and motherhood bring. People often recommend that we enjoy these moments while we can because they go by so fast. But it didn’t feel that way to me right then, as the same challenges seemed to drag on and on. I longed for escape, a chance to just “be,” and enough money to buy my freedom from the relentless rat race. In the same breath, though, I asked myself, “Who am I to complain? I am better off than most.”
It is in this cloudy frame of mind that I needed to advise my older son—not a big deal, perhaps, as he didn’t listen to me anyway. Or he listened but discounted most of what I had to say. I didn’t know everything, this is true, but my college degrees had got me this far. He had barely passed high school, dropped out of community college, yet he firmly believed he had everything figured out.
My son wanted to be a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. My smart and capable daughter wanted to be an actress. My youngest son wanted to be an NBA player. I wasn’t against dreaming. In fact, as you might be able to tell, I am a bit of a dreamer myself. But I couldn’t help thinking: What are the chances of all three of my kids reaching their goals?
Becoming a top MMA fighter—1/1,000,000
Becoming a famous actress—1/100,000
Becoming an NBA player—3/10,000
All three children reaching their goals—3/1000,000,000,000,000
Chances of winning the lottery—1/14,000,000
There is nothing that injects perspective, helps you gain an appreciation, and stirs action for what you want than a wake-up call. I had to face the inevitable and call my siblings back. Before I could, however, the phone rang again. As my brother started to speak, I prayed silently. I let out the breath that I didn’t know I was holding when I heard him say, “Mom was in a minor car accident, but she is OK.”
No Time to Waste
In this life, we have no time to waste. We either need to keep moving forward or take a much-needed break. What helped me see through the fog of uncertainty and doubt (midlife crisis?) was journaling and reflecting. Now I am ready to share what I have learned on this difficult yet incredible journey and make it clear to any parent who is struggling that you are not alone.
Like many parents, you may have had challenges in raising your kids and have made many mistakes. You may have read more parenting books or articles written by illustrious psychiatrists and psychologists than you can count. The common theme is if you follow the expert’s advice, then your children will become happy, successful, productive adults. Much of what they say is absolutely correct. The problem is that there is often a vast gap between knowing something is right and putting it into practice.
What these books and articles often neglect to explain is before you can become the parent that you want to be and help your kids, you need to tilt the light away from them and shine it on yourself. To become a better parent, you first need to focus on you.
Once you do that, you will find the answers you are looking for. You will become the role model they can follow and be a positive influence on your kids.
In this book, I offer key insights and share the approaches that I took in my own life to turn things around. As a coach, I have made these same recommendations to other parents and have begun to witness tremendous change.
Using This Book
In the following chapters, I share my experiences parenting my own children. For that reason, the life lessons are not always in chronological order because they were often learned in parallel, but this is what you’ll discover in the book:
Part I presents three key lessons to serve as the guide for the rest of your parenting life:
1. Your children are a force unto themselves and may not be anything like you, and that’s OK. As parents, we can exert a certain amount of control, but in the end, the path they choose is up to them. We have to learn when to push and when to step back.
2. We can hinder our kids by trying to help them too much. Recent studies show that many young adults lack resilience because their parents never gave them a chance to practice failure.
3. Help your children find freedom and independence by observing the lesson: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I learned this the hard way. Assuming everything else in your family is mostly OK, not following this teaching is the likely reason why your kids fail to launch.
Part II tackles personal growth and the challenges facing us as parents. You may not have experienced the same exact challenges as I describe, but the principle of focusing inward and unleashing your spirit within is likely to still apply. The truth is you may need to take some time for self-improvement and rid yourself of some internal obstacles before you can practice the key lessons in Part I. In this section, I also share an attitude and philosophy that can help your family thrive.
Part III focuses on launch and career and includes steps to help your child launch. It also outlines my quest to discover my life’s purpose and recommends questions to ask yourself to uncover your own.
At the end of each chapter, there are questions to help you reflect on how you might apply these lessons to your own life. Please do your best to answer them as honestly and sincerely as you can before moving on to the next chapter. You may be surprised by what you discover when you do.
What I hope makes this book different is that it isn’t just about parenting. As mothers, we are multidimensional, holistic people whose parenting experience intersects with other aspects of our life, including self-growth, our other relationships, and our careers. When we focus on treating the whole person, rather than a slice, we become much better at everything.
This book is for if you are facing any of the challenges that I have experienced, including:
· A child struggling to launch into adulthood.
· Older children who don’t listen, as they believe you have nothing of value to share.
· A critical husband, spouse, or co-parent who blames you for everything that is “wrong” with your kids.
· A crisis of faith in your own parenting skills, and in turn, your self-worth.
· Anxiety, anger, and fear of the future for your kids, your family, and your life.
My hope is that you emerge from this process inspired and ready to regain the power that you lost. But before we begin, here are five key takeaways that I would like you to consider as you progress throughout the book:
1. Don’t beat yourself up because you’ve committed parenting blunders: Life is not perfect, you are not perfect, and your kids won’t be either. Don’t give up on yourself or become defensive because you’ve made mistakes, even major ones. The only worrying errors are the ones you don’t learn anything from.
2. You have more power than you realize: My son has told me this many times, but it took me a while to discover it as I often felt too overwhelmed and victimized to believe it. Keep exploring until you uncover your own power, and once you do, use it wisely, as it can have a significant impact on your children’s lives.
3. Respect and appreciate your children, as there is as much to learn from them as they have to learn from you: Unlike many of the shows on Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and the like, I am not suggesting that kids are smarter than their parents. What I mean to say is that by listening and paying attention to who they are, rather than judging and criticizing them, you will uncover significant new revelations about your children, yourself, and life.
4. Put your oxygen mask on first before putting on your child’s: Just as you are instructed on an airplane to fit your own oxygen mask before helping others, you need to take care of yourself first— physically, mentally, and spiritually—before caring for your children. Children learn more by what they see and experience than by what they hear you say. It’s going to take a lot more than words to get them to behave in the way that you want. To take on this monumental task of raising children, you need to be calm, ready, and in control. If you find yourself underwater and struggling to breathe, then you need to stop whatever you are doing, put on your own oxygen mask and take a very long and deep breath.
5. Believe change is possible: Just when you think all hope is lost, a simple change in you may be the key that unlocks the potential of others and brings about tremendous personal growth. You can continue with a fixed mindset believing nothing is possible or trust in your own power to bring about change. Which one would you choose?