Parenting: It Is Not My Job

It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

Being a parent is a really tough job. I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine.

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

It is not my job to build my kid’s self-esteem, but rather to give them the tools to earn it for themselves. Self esteem results from setting challenging goals for ourselves and then accomplishing them. Sure, the recognition of others helps, but only if we know it to be genuine (and kids can see through this at a shockingly early age.) So I can encourage my kids to set themselves goals and to stick with them, but I cannot bestow self-esteem upon them, that they will have to earn it for themselves.

It is not my job to be my kid’s companion. I love being with my kids, and since they entered adolescence, I suspect I love being with them a whole lot more than they love being with me. When they were small they would demand my attention  and I felt that I failed them when I didn’t keep them company or play with them as they wished. In doing that, I took on a job that was not mine. Kids need their parents for love, comfort and guidance…playmate on demand is simply not in the job description. It helps to remember that the happiest people are those content with their own company.

It is not my job to make my kids happy. I am pretty sure if I could have figured out the key to happiness, I would have sold it and funded their tuition. My notion of happiness is not static and it has evolved over my life. I know that getting what you think you want does not always lead to happiness. I know that money can buy peace of mind, a sense of security and freedom from certain hardships, but it cannot touch happiness. I know that true happiness is looking at the world through your own lens, not the one handed to you by others, even your parents. And as the mom of three I know that happiness is so different for each child that even if I had the power to bestow it, which I certainly do not, it would consume my every waking minute repackaging it three times over. Finding happiness has been a lifelong, and not always successful journey; I really don’t have the runway to find it for four people. So my kids are going to have to do what I and every other person did, and find it on their own.

My job was to model and teach impulse control and deferred gratification. None of us can always get what we want. The Rolling Stones taught me that, and it is my job to pass this along to my kids.

My job was to give my sons relationships that would last a lifetime, people who they could turn to in need. That is what family and close friends are for. But far more than teaching that people will always be there for them, I hope I have taught them to be there for those they love. 

My job was to teach them right from wrong in a world that may well contradict my message.

My job was to make sure that my kids launched into the world as well-educated and well prepared as they could be.

My job was to make them flexible and unencumbered by the past, prepared for a world I have not seen.

My job was to teach them that quitting is sometimes, but rarely, the answer. We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don’t love.

Being a parent calls on every physical, intellectual and emotional resource we have. It is a long complex process and I, for one, made it a whole lot harder than it needed to be. As parents, we pondered how our own parents had it so much easier, how life was simpler and they found raising us far less challenging. We hear this question often and assume it was because we were raised in simpler times that demanded far less of parents. But maybe it is otherwise. Maybe our parents had a better sense of what was possible for parents to achieve. Maybe they knew what was their job and what, as children, was ours.

Being a parent is a really tough job. I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine.



  1. says

    Surprise, surprise, I’m commenting. :) Yes, I agree with this. The passion thing is, like, an Oprah-invented (or at least, massively reinforced) notion. Now that both of our kids are gone, my husband and I look back and think, yes, we made mistakes. I’m sure we’d do some things differently. And I hardly lived up to today’s ideal of “guidance counselor parent.” But we provided a stable framework from which they could grow up. So that’s what they got – stability – and “weird” parents. Not a bad deal. I see they (our kids) make some of the same dumb mistakes we did when we were “that age”. Shocker!

    • says

      Amending my comment – by our kids being “gone”, I mean, away at college. Not gone as in “gone to heaven” or some such horrible fate. Just felt I had to clarify. :) Even if my clarification is kind of an “ew” comment. Ew.

    • says

      Love your comment Pam. A stable upbringing is a gift for life, I think. It is the foundation, steady and sure, that they can stand on forever. Not to be underestimated.

    • Anonymous says

      Lisa continues to hammer out those thoughts and feelings that reverberate within. I so wanted my children to have strong self-esteems, to have that precious commodity which could not be purchased with money & it seemed to be the main thread in every article I read, encouraging me forward. However, I did not loose my values of setting boundaries for both myself and my children. And yes, I did make it harder on myself. Big sigh. Did I have fun? Yes! I was a very fun mother. And still am, much to my 20-somethings dismay. I have always loved children and work with them in volunteer capacity, and I am still giving 110% of myself, but this time in just hour increments. I just think mothering is a big deal. I wish I wasn’t such an overachiever. Big smile.

  2. happy outlook says

    Lisa Heffernan – you always make me think. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Beth Burrell says

    Hi Lisa – I have followed Grown & Flown for awhile, being the mom of two semi-adults (one college grad, another in college) and a high school junior. Your 6th paragraph about happiness is about the best I’ve read on the subject. How true for all of us. If I’d only realized and understood this 20 years ago! Thank you for writing.

    • says

      Oh Beth, what a kind thing to say. Thank you. The same is true for me. I believed for so long that my sons happiness was in my hands, yet it never was…

  4. says

    Lisa – this is so true and freeing at the same time. When we do everything for them we take away their ability to become and to self-reflect. I’m forwarding this to my daughter who has little ones – it has so many nuggets of wisdom.

  5. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    You are spot on about what we need to remember about parenthood. I wish I had known these truths when I was an insecure young mother. But finding the truth is all part of the process, I guess. Loved this post, Lisa.

  6. says

    Hi Lisa! I’ve been reading your posts for months, back (last September) when I started blogging about emptying my own nest. This post made me finally “comment”. All of your work is outstanding, and I enjoyed seeing you on my favorite morning show, Today, but this post is the best one I’ve read. In blogging, we have “the rant”, and this one rants righteously! Thanks for putting our jobs back in perspective. I’m sending it to my sister, who is in the thick of the teenage years and struggling.

    • says

      Oh my thank you Gail. So so so so glad that you read us. Your words have made my day and sending a huge dose of support to your sister.

  7. Estelle says

    Another great post, Lisa. I agree with just about everything you have said here. I do think that initially we can help them with feeling good about themselves, and then give them the tools to continue that lifelong journey.

    • says

      Thanks Estelle. I agree that we can make them feel good, certainly safe, but their long lasting self image will need to come from themselves. We can certainly mess it up though!

    • Elizabeth says

      But I wanted to ask….WHEN did you figure all this out? Were you lucky enough to know all of this from the time your kids were little?

  8. Diane says

    I completely agree. Best post yet.

  9. Diane says

    This is a wonderful blog post. I am having a particularly sad day with my very bright, but oh so disorganized 22 yr old fifth year college age son as he predicts another failed test. We have said for many years that our goal as parents was to raise happy self sufficient adults. I fear that we have a 67% success rate (2 out of 3 children). As parents we want to help our children so much it almost physically hurts. I could use a pep talk right about now.

  10. Regine Kelly says

    Yes! Pass along to new parents. It is so easy to err on the side of mush because life can be brutal and lessons so hard.

  11. says


    I think that this one of the the most meaningful blog posts that I have ever read.


  12. says

    This is a great post. Absolutely favorite quote: “We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don’t love.”

    Giving our kids the gift of grit may be one of the best things we can do. It’s an attitude that will get them through so much of what they encounter in life. We’ve got to survive what we don’t love to be able to savor those things we love. So much of parenting seems to be about giving our kids what they love and want. Sometimes we must focus on what they need.

    Thanks for this really level-headed post. You get right to the essence of so much of our parenting.

  13. angie says

    Wonderful post. Reminds me of words my very wise pediatrician told me when my very hyper toddler son was being challenging in his exam room. My job wasn’t to like and accept my child and his behavior, my job was to raise him so that other people who didn’t love him like I did, and that he met later in life liked and accepted him and his behavior.

  14. Emily says

    Oh how I LOVED this post so much. My husband and I talk about our kids’ happiness a lot. I always say that the most important goal for me as a parent is for my kids to be happy, but you are so right that we cannot provide that. They must find it and figure out how to be happy for themselves. Such a hard notion for a parent to grasp, but could not be truer. Self-esteem is another hot topic in our house. Thank you for reminding me that I cannot provide that for them, but oh how I wish I could.

    • says

      I find it excruciating to see my kids unhappy, but have come to understand that there is not much I can do and most of what I can do, may not help them in the long run. Finding parenting so much clearer as the years wind down, cruel irony!

  15. says

    Compelling read, thank you. I was a bit startled about the bit on “finding your passion,” though. I don’t find that an invented concept at all, but then I come from a family where everyone pursues interesting things. My parents are artists, my brothers are scientists, I build violins…. We’re all deeply enthusiastic about the things we’ve chosen to do, and that seems normal to me. But then my husband always says I don’t appreciate how unusual my family is, so maybe other families don’t base their lives around their passions. For me it’s hard to imagine not living that way.

    • says

      I think so many kids who do not have a natural passion, as your family does, feel pressured to “find something”. Not all of us find a passion like that and our parents certainly do not find it for us. Thanks so much for sharing your family story.

      • says

        Agreed that it’s not something anyone can find for you. But I think if my kids didn’t gravitate toward anything that spoke to them (which doesn’t seem to be the case, there are lots of things that spark their interest), I would encourage them to put their energy into something worthwhile for the community. If they can’t find anything to work toward for themselves I would want them to work toward helping others.

  16. Jennifer Steck says

    Your kids are lucky they have you as a mom. There are lessons only they can learn and they will be better for them. Beautiful post!!

  17. says

    Thank you thank you for helping me to understand that I can not do everything fir my daughter and are made guilty if I don’t. This justifies so many of my feelings-thank you!

  18. says

    Parenting is the only job that requires you to create your job description as you go along…
    Thanks for contributing to the job description of those who come after you. I hope they discover this post in time.
    Beautifully written!

  19. Carpool Goddess says

    Loved this post Lisa! I wish I had known this too. I definitely made my parenting job more complicated.

    • says

      Ahhh Linda thanks, so much becomes clear as they get older, wish I could have seen so much earlier…

  20. says

    I loved the part about it being their job to find their passion. As my son has grown older I have realized that while he likes playing sports, it is not at all his passion. And that’s made it easier for me to let him stop playing certain ones. When I have other parents ask me about that they kind of get a blank look on their faces. So many of the still think they can force athletics upon their children. There are few kids I know who truly want to put the work in to play athletics at a higher level. The ones that do are amazing to see, but they are actually few and far between.
    The other part I have been realizing is that their passion might not be what they do for a living. My husband has a job he is good at and enjoys, but it’s not his passion. That would be what we do all summer (rafting & fishing). His balance is that he is able to participate in what he loves outside of his work and that makes him happy. It’s a good model for my sons to see.

  21. sonirox says

    I really, really needed this today. Thanks for putting in words what I know in my heart.

  22. Gabby McCree says

    Congratulations Lisa! Much resonates with my experience too. For me it has been a process of my own maturing (maybe that’s the main point of parenting) and figuring out what being a good model means….actually with adult kids it’s quite are relief to return to figuring out my own life.

    For me, one of the most important parts of helping my kids understand that it is their responsibility to find their way, their happiness is to learn how to be able to listen with more objectivity, with less opinions than I had as a mother of young children. A useful tool has been to focus on asking thoughtful questions that really turn the tables and (Oh can you imagine)….nodding a lot and keeping my mouth shut!

  23. says

    Great post. Thanks for your wisdom and honesty. Reminds me of a friend of my mother’s, a very no-nonsense mother of six with little time or interest in coddling any of her kids,used to call all tough times and challenges “learning experiences.” We used to laugh about how often she said it, but reading your column and thinking of how many moms, myself included, tend to fret about trying to make sure our children are happy all the time, reminds me how rarely I hear people describing difficult times as valuable for the growth that they bring.

  24. Penny says

    Thank you. I can truly appreciate honesty and love what you share.

  25. says

    This is so beautifully written and has so many truths. I often think about many of the points you made, it sometimes makes parenting that much harder to not be looking for the fixes or fake happy makers and instead accept the sadness, disappointments and frustrations as they come but I do think it is so very worthwhile.