The idea of a husband and wife finishing graduate school on the same day, walking across the same stage, sounds pretty magical. That is, until you realize that this means two highly ambitious scholars must not only find jobs in the same geographic area but also must agree on wanting to live in that same part of the world.
The year was 2012, and my husband had accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in California following the completion of his PhD. I, on the other hand, had worked incredibly hard for two years to make connections with professionals across the Commonwealth of Virginia and was ready to begin my career as a public health practitioner. [Enter Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both”]
After many tears, applications, and prayers, I decided that being married to my husband was more important than the security any job could offer. In one of my boldest life choices, I took my hand off the wheel and moved to California.
To this day, no other decision has blessed me as richly.
Life has a funny way of surprising you. I had no way of knowing back in 2012 that prioritizing my marriage over my career would prepare me for parenthood in the years to come.
You see, every single day that I am a mother I must accept that my ability to control has limits. I was reminded of this at a local pumpkin patch this weekend when my son, a passionate climber and explorer, fell several feet from the slide ladder he was climbing. Even though my husband and I were at the base of the ladder, we were powerless to prevent him from falling. In his tumble, however, he learned more about the art of being careful – an essential lesson for toddlers.
I think as parents we are constantly battling within ourselves the desire to control. How easy it would be to plan out the wardrobe, meals, activities, and decisions that will define our children’s lives! Unfortunately, I think we spend much of our time chasing after unreal expectations. If we are honest with ourselves, how often does the day or outcome we envision actually transpire?
Some situations are easier to bear than others, but I would argue that embracing the erratic nature of parenthood with open arms (and a sense of humor) will save us a world of heartbreak and promote a healthier environment for our children to grow, learn, and make mistakes. When I lose sight of the bigger picture, the undergraduates that I teach remind me that hovering over the details of our children’s lives actually weakens them and overtly tells them that the external matters more than the internal.
I can’t help but wonder if matters of control arise from the broken places within ourselves. Are we too concerned that our children’s outfits, interests, and imperfections will reflect something deeper within us? Or, more disturbingly, are we placing pressure on our children to cover those dark places we desperately fight to hide?
I think practicing honesty with ourselves and others is a good place to start. After all, no person is an island, and a paradise of wonder is waiting to be discovered in the little people around us.