I never really know what I’m doing.
My son is 12 years old now, and every day is bewildering. My “bonus children” (my fiance’s two sons, 11 and 15) also baffle me.
I grew up with one sister, and our father passed away when I was 17. Boys, particularly preteen ones, are inexplicably loud, rough and rude, and simultaneously heartbreakingly tender, gentle and sweet.
Far too often I hear my voice, raised to a point of mild hysteria—“Please turn it down!” or, “You’re going to break that!” or most often, “What is this disgusting thing?”—and am forced to question my abilities.
Am I doing a good job? How do I navigate these unfamiliar territories? How do I set these boys up for success in a world that quite often, with its social media onslaught, violence and unpredictability, overwhelms me as an adult?
What can I, who at times feel quite unprepared to face the world myself, possibly offer these precious gems of developing young men?
I check on my son after he has fallen asleep at night, listening to his even breath and marveling at how young he looks in slumber, and then slump over a cup of tea, wondering.
Perhaps you, too, are struggling with these questions—or other concerns. Children are, if anything, incredibly unique, and I continuously remind myself that even those families that look perfect on the outside have intricacies, depths and worries I cannot imagine.
Here are the three things late nights slumped over tea have revealed to me, and I hope they resonate with other parents navigating these baffling, anxiety-causing, child-raising years:
1. The most important thing I want my child to learn is compassion.
It may not be directly related to finding a career or becoming a self-sufficient individual, but I think compassion and empathy are some of the most powerful assets a young man can carry forth into the world right now. I thinking caring deeply for others shows an incredible depth of character, particularly in our fast-track society that glamorizes busyness, money and things. I want my son to know that caring counts. Manners count. Being considerate makes a difference. If he learns nothing else from me, let it be a love of other humans that he carries forward.
2. We are all just doing our best from day to day.
All of us—my 12-year-old, me, my stepkids, the family down the road. Some days are fantastic; we laugh, love, eat healthily and play board games together like a made-for-television movie. Some days I am so thankful that everyone is in bed, silent and safe, that I could put my head down on the table beside my cup of chamomile tea and shed some tears of gratitude (and yes, sometimes I do exactly that).
3. Connecting with others and asking for help is okay, and sometimes necessary.
Teaching that to the boys—completely essential. If they know they can ask me anything, from the little minutiae of everyday stuff to the bigger, more challenging questions they don’t really want to ask but really need an answer to, I’ll have achieved, at least personally, a monumental success.
I am one small, frequently confused person tackling the world day by day, and I hope I leave this world knowing one thing: that I loved my child (and others) deeply, and that I did my best.
Whenever I get consumed by the many things I have not yet accomplished, or weighed down by the challenges that our world seems full of, I read a few lines of the oft-quoted poem, “Success,” arguably attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.”
May we all be so lucky as we navigate our journeys along this exhilarating and confusing life-path to succeed in such a measure.
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Toby Israel
Photos: Author’s Own