Turning Out

‘I am going to spend a little less time worrying about how my children are turning out and instead spend a little more time celebrating who they are’

By Melissa Stefanec

This week, I took my daughter to daycare and watched her get on the bus for her first day of first grade. There was another family at our daycare who was putting their son on the bus for his first day of kindergarten. Stella, relishing the opportunity to be the big kid and in the know, laid down some ground rules for how their morning bus routine was going to go.

As the bus approached them, she put her arm to keep him from going into the street. She then looked at him and said, “I am first every day. We wait until the bus stops, and then we cross the street.”

For her, it was a matter of fact. As the oldest and the authority, she would lead the way. The apprehensive kindergartner gladly obliged. And I, snickering lightly, couldn’t help but marvel at how she was turning out. Instead of correcting her, I took pride in what she was exactly at that moment — a strong (and increasingly independent) person who wanted to lead. Drinking in that moment was beautiful.

I found myself in a similar situation only days before. Our family was at a diner. When the waitress came to take our order, my 3-year-old son started introducing each member of the family. He rounded out his lineup with a family member we usually hide when we are outside the house. He ended, “and this is Butt Cheeks.”

In that moment, I absolutely loved my son. He was being goofy and silly, and harmlessly so. If he wants to add Butt Cheeks to our family gatherings, why shouldn’t I laugh? At that moment, I wasn’t concerned about what college degree he would pursue in 15 years. I was watching him be himself, which, in this case, is a sassy 3-year-old with a passion for soliciting reactions. It made everyone laugh, and everything was exactly as it should be for a moment.

As a parent, I often find myself wondering about how my kids will turn out. I wonder what careers they will pursue. I wonder what crowd they will run with. I wonder what they will excel at and what they will struggle with. I spend a silly amount of time wondering how they will turn out. I also, as I’m sure many parents do, spend much of my parenting energy on molding, correcting and redirecting my children to help them turn into something more.

This is all well and fine, but it’s a bit like making chocolate chip cookies and waiting until they are cool to taste them. You have a much better experience eating cookie dough and melty cookies fresh from the oven. (I really like baked goods, and it’s been a long day at the office; so, please let me live vicariously through my baking metaphor right now). If you wait until something is exactly what it is supposed to be, you miss out on the good stuff along the way. You miss the present.

Parents do this because we want our kids to turn out the best they can. When I see my kids struggling with a situation or behaving poorly, I often wonder at how I can help them. I also venture down the rabbit hole of what in their upbringing yielded those reactions or behaviors. I spend a lot of time calculating where and how I should redirect my kids’ and my energy to improve their characters. I want to make sure they turn out well, so I keep looking ahead. However, this keeps me from taking in who they are along the way.

So, to make this parenting journey a little more fun, I am going to try to spend a little less time worrying about how my children are going to turn out.

Because, when you appreciate your kids for who they are today, you feel good, and they feel good. When I welcomed Butt Cheeks to the diner table, we all had a nice time, because we just enjoyed things as they were. So much so, that before we left, the person sitting next to us leaned over and said, “Excuse me ma’am. I just wanted to say how nice it is to sit next to kids that are behaving in a restaurant. I am a preschool teacher, and it’s great to see.”

Sure, she caught my kids on a good day. They didn’t spend the entire meal bickering with each other or spilling things. I can’t help but think they behaved a little better because my husband and I let them be exactly who they were, without trying to steer them into something better. We could’ve tried to deter Butt Cheeks (and stopped Stella from building a creamer and jam packet tower), but that wouldn’t let them be who they are right now.

And, back to the school bus, when I let my daughter lead instead of giving a lecture in social niceties and line leaders, I let her walk onto that bus with confidence (and her friend knew he was in good hands). Everyone felt a little better because my daughter took the initiative to lead.

As a parent, my sanity hinges on knowing what battles to pick with my children, especially when it comes to helping them grow into themselves. Right now, I am going to spend a little less time worrying about how my children are turning out and instead spend a little more time celebrating who they are.