These are the days of self-doubt and reflection for me and my peers. Many of us are coming up on 50 and our kids are about to launch into the real world. With this collision of events you could not be human without having doubts about where you are in life and whether or not you've done a good job with the kids.
I just spent time with a friend who expressed doubts about her parenting. This was shocking since she has --by anyone's assessment-- some of the most talented and nicest children I know. But still she wonders if she's done enough and worries that mistakes have been made. This is proof I suppose that only a bad parent would never question the job he or she has done. The good ones take a look at it frequently and readjust as needed.
But how are we supposed to know if were doing a good job? Too many parents look to the easy assessments--grades, advanced/honors classes, elite college acceptance, awards, athletic accomplishments, invitations to dances. Yes all of these achievements (or lack of them) are easy to quantify but that doesn't make them valid assessors. We know they tell a very incomplete story. We know the super star athlete who is so stressed by the pressure he commits suicide or the over-achiever with the big smile who has a secret eating disorder. We also know these superficial measures of success do not predict future achievements or happiness. We've seen it all by now, the valedictorian who didn't do much; the homecoming queen thrice divorced; the captain of the football team who never surpassed the glory of his senior year. So how DO we know if we've been doing a good job?
My friend Christie Mellor has a list of how to measure success that I like very much in her new book"You Look Fine, Really" which deals with the self-doubt women in their 40's and 50's have that leads them to do silly things like get plastic surgery or inject their wrinkles with botulism. She also talks about the bigger self-doubts like wondering what on earth we've done with our life--doubts that make us wonder if we are successful. Then she lists a wonderfully insightful and reassuring check-list for us all. She suggests we:
"take a cold, hard look at what the heck you have been doing for the last forty or fifty years. Have you been learning new stuff? Have you become friends with some good people? Do your friends love you and do you love them? Do you laugh on a regular basis? Are you excited about what's coming next? Then you're a very, very successful person."
I thought of this list today after I talked to my friend and inspired by Christie I have a similar list--this one to determine if you have been a successful parent:
Take a good long look at your child. Is he kind? Is he respectful of you, teachers, grandparents, and his siblings? Does he help when he sees someone in need? Is he very good at something (it does not matter what--just one thing that is "his thing")? Does he know how to work hard to achieve a goal? Can he hold a conversation with an adult? Does he have at least one good friend? Is he happy? If so then you have been a very, very successful parent.
If you can say yes to all of that you've done a fine job. The rest--finding a fulfilling life vocation, building a loving family, and whatever hopes and dreams you have for your child will take care of itself because you have provided him with the basic building blocks.
So my friends, stop worrying, you look fine, really. And yes, you are very,very good parent.