Those Three Little Words

October 31, 2014 in Inside SWS
“I don’t know,” I responded to 5th grade parents on Wednesday evening. Three little words that are difficult to utter, for me at least. I was that straight-A student in high school – the one who did the extra credit questions, came in after class for help, and earned the “most likely to succeed” moniker in the yearbook. It was about perfection and control – having all the answers and leaving nothing to chance.

Except, as I later learned, life doesn’t work like that. Marriages unravel, eating disorders develop, babies arrive prematurely, teenagers throw keggers at your home while you are gone. Curve balls come from the left and the right, and sometimes all you can do is duck and cover.

Twenty-seven years of parenting and slightly more of working in schools have brought home one thing: there are no certainties in life. As a self-proclaimed control freak, I fought this lesson for a long time. My discomfort with not having all the answers manifested itself in a variety of ways – fear, self-doubt, denial, depression, and anger, to name a few. Sometimes others took the brunt of my emotional angst; in other cases I beat myself up for making the wrong choice or passing up what in hindsight was a great opportunity.

At some point – I mark the turning point as my 50th birthday – I threw in the towel and gave in to not knowing. Not knowing if I offered my child good advice, landed the best job, or selected the right school. And guess what? Life became so much easier. The glass was not only half-full but often brimming over. As Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, writes, “It really is possible to thrive amid uncertainty. It’s not about getting advice you can trust; it’s about faith and self-trust – believing that whatever happens, you’ll find a way through it. Without uncertainty, we’d never start a business or risk loving someone new…these periods of discomfort can give rise to life’s most important adventures.”

Most of us might be able to take a deep breath and go with the flow on occasion – except when it’s about our children. The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings that range from frustration to terror, as we find ourselves navigating uncharted territory marked with shame, judgment and intolerance. As Brown reminds us, “Somewhere buried deep inside our hopes and fears for our children is the terrifying truth that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and there are no guarantees. Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. The mandate is not be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found that what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”

In my role as both a parent and a school leader, I find Brown’s words comforting and spot on. My children have seen me stumble and pick myself back up. Colleagues have witnessed my missteps and caught balls I have dropped. And parents have heard me say, “I don’t know.” Hopefully these moments of uncertainty (I still have to catch myself from labeling them as failures) are actually gifts that allow others, especially our children, to let go, take risks and admit they simply don’t have an answer. And that is just fine.

Wishing you a Halloween filled with more treats than tricks!


Published in the Connection from 10/31/14.