It finally dawned on me a few years ago that this whole parenting thing is just a lengthy sequence of lessons in serenity.
Perhaps because both my children were blessed with strong wills, I have absorbed and accepted this realization to the absolute core of my being. I’ve reached the point where I quickly know when to give up the fight – and when to not even contemplate starting one.
Months ago, both of my kids decided that they were going take a college course during their summer break. For each one of them, it’s one of the most difficult courses they must pass for their major. They felt like taking these classes in the summer, without being enrolled in several other classes at the same time, would give them the best shot at getting a good grade (and at graduating in four years, when all parental financial assistance expires!)
I felt like this was a smart move, but assumed they would still have time to find a “real” summer job. My husband and I began casually suggesting they start looking for these jobs many months in advance. The suggesting evolved into reminding which evolved into quasi-nagging over the course of late winter and early spring.
One of them secured a long-term house and dog-sitting job, which was soon cancelled due to the employer’s injury and future surgery. Not much of an effort seemed to be made to find another job, so they both arrived home in May with no prospects.
My annoyance immediately started to bubble up like soup simmering on the stovetop, and I had to remind myself to take some deep breaths and repeat the Serenity Prayer a few dozen times.
As I watched them both start their classes, I didn’t say another word about finding jobs.
They quickly surprised me with how many hours each day they were dedicating to studying, working through problem sets, making formula sheets, and essentially turning our dining room into a library-like Study Space, complete with mechanical pencils, notebooks, calculators and highlighters strewn about. I had to concede that they were working really hard, and best of all, helping each other and commiserating together over the challenges of their curriculum and assignments.
I decided to embrace the reality as much as possible and view the time as one of serious sibling bonding.
I also realized that I could now book a trip for us all to visit relatives later in the summer, including some cousins and my Mom, whom my daughter has not seen in two years. Their beloved grandmother, who is over 90 years old, and completed cancer treatment earlier this year, is my kids’ last surviving grandparent. I know that their being able to spend time with her is now extremely limited and the opportunity to schedule this trip has made me very grateful.
One of the other added benefits to my kids not having “real” jobs this summer is that I made a point not to get preachy about “No job – no cash handouts!” and wait to see how the money situation played out. Neither has asked for any money (Whaat?!). They have realized whatever they spend is coming out of their personal savings, and they both have become quite thrifty.
I’ve watched them cook meals together (Repeat: Whaat?!) and choose their activities very sensibly. They have scrapped together a few side gigs of tutoring and dog care, so they are earning a little “pocket money”, but not enough to let them feel they can spend frivolously. I am quite enjoying witnessing their restraint and acceptance of frugal living.
But I have come to realize that the very best part of them not having jobs is the time that my husband and I are getting to spend with them. If you think the high school years fly quickly by, the college years pass at warp-speed, and the opportunities to have your kids at home for extended amounts of time melt faster than a popsicle in the summer sun.
As the youngest sibling in a large family, I have watched numerous nieces and nephews progress through the college years, and then subsequent jobs, graduate and professional schools, marriages, moves, and kids of their own. I know fully what is coming, and how fleeting the time with my kids at home is.
I have brushed aside the doubts and the thoughts like “But they need that impressive job or internship on their resume to be successful!” Their paths are their own. They will have time for those jobs and internships in the future. Or they won’t. They will deal with any negative consequence that may come from simply being students this summer.
And I will selfishly continue to enjoy the insignificant moments, like watching them laugh while making guacamole or argue about who gets to use the “good” calculator first. And I will cherish every minute they get to spend with their family.
With regards to their summer choices, I have chosen serenity, as I have countless times before.