By Michele Howe
Where are you heading? Do you know? Have you made plans for the upcoming years? The next twelve months? This week? Today? Important questions that deserve adequate time and attention. “Whenever you exit planet Earth, your grave will bear a marker of time – a tombstone or memorial plaque. What is found on most? The dates of your birth and death. Life is what happens in the “dash” between the two.”—David H. McKinley in The Search for Satisfaction.
If you know where you’re heading, you’ll be of much greater help to your offspring as they traverse the murky waters of post-high school educational and career choices. No matter what our age, moms and kids alike, make decisions every single day. And yes, it takes courage to risk entering new and untested territory, but that’s yet another facet of mothering isn’t it? That innate ability to “hand-off” the baton of confidence to our teens and young adult children is instinctive to motherhood. While moms cannot always tell their children how to determine which course to take with 100% accuracy, they can help them to develop sturdy decision-making criteria and critical thinking skills to better equip them. In short, moms impart the know-how so that their young adult kids “know-how” to address the pivotal and ongoing life choices.
From experience, moms also recognize that lacking “on paper” goals…those passing “pipe dreams” frequently die a quick death at the first sign of opposition or the slightest, most incidental setback. Everyone knows someone whose dreams are routinely larger than life, these individuals are colorfully over the top with excitement, enthusiasm, and are enthralled with the “idea” of some far-removed notion of success. While it’s fun (and amusing) to watch such theatrics, if we’re honest, we’re pretty certain very little by way of actual results will ever come to pass. We’ve borne witness to the same song and dance too many times before and while we resist reacting with a sort of subdued, mild cynicism, it isn’t always easy to join in with the fleeting momentary hilarity either. There’s just too much to lose.
Mothers want to inspire their kids to dream big…while simultaneously equipping them to practically reach these same objectives. Look at history, (both the grand and the small) for a more tempered response to “dreaming.” Clearly, it is those individuals (and nations) who take careful account of their gifts, talents, abilities, resources, and limitations that most often achieve their intents. Sure, there are setbacks, risks, and sacrifices…but for the person who knows his destination, these wrinkles can be pressed through, ironed out, and smoothed over because the end goal (written in black in white, remember) is an ever-present reminder of what is at stake. Writer David McKinley believes that, “Life reflects design, sequence, and order.” Thus said, finding practical ways to work toward our target means settling down with one hand firmly grasped on reality while balancing our other with the most hopeful of possibilities etched in our brain. McKinley asks, “Are you living “on purpose,” or have you given your life over to the random acts of occurrence – wishing, hoping, and yearning…” Good question for every mom to ask, first of herself, and then model to her children.
Ready, Set, Adjust!
* Make a five year plan, dream big, but set the goal on paper for continued reflection and do not be hesitant to “tweak” the plan…expect to do so. Barb was so organized her kids often teased her about having even her funeral date scheduled in advance. Truth was, Barb hadn’t been born with a special giant-sized organizational gene. She had, however, been the youngest in a large boisterous family of six children and in whose home chaos reigned supreme. Barb, quiet by nature, often felt lost in the shuffle of the family’s noisy commotion. There were times when Barb was actually left behind, forgotten both at home and during family getaways. As the head of her own family, Barb decided early on to set ideas, plans, goals on paper, on the calendar, and also relied upon automatic computer prompts that appeared across her screen in regular succession. The kids might poke fun, Barb thought, but they’ll thank me someday when they realize how getting schedules and goals down in black and white simplifies and streamlines a person’s life.
* Accurately assess present “pluses” which includes all personal (and financial) abilities, skills, talents, education, and experience. Optimistic that her daughter was going to attend the family college, Rachel just couldn’t get over the disappointment that Taylor had no interest adding to the family’s prestigious legacy. In fact, Taylor wasn’t interested in college attendance period. She opted for a trade school where she’d be qualified as dental assistant within two years. Degrees with letters before or after her name simply didn’t matter to Taylor, but she found great satisfaction working with people and was a real hands-on kind of person. After some private stewing and foot stamping, Rachel realized Taylor was simply different from herself. Not less, just unlike her. After feeling some conviction about trying to live out some of her dreams through her daughter’s life, Rachel made a dramatic u-turn in her attitude and became Taylor’s number one supporter and confidante. It was a win-win situation for the both of them.
* Be realistic about limitations including past shortfalls, mistakes, paying close attention to situations that are most difficult or undesirable to handle (no repeat offenders allowed). Chelsea watched and waited sure her daughter Katie would “make good” at her newest position at the upscale shopping mall. But it wasn’t to be. Katie just got flustered and upset (bringing those frustrations home with her nightly) when she had to wait on demanding customers who cut her no slack if she made an error or wasn’t able to comply instantaneously to their inquires. Katie never had been good at thinking on her feet or under pressure. But she had other strengths…. lots of them. Though Chelsea’s mother’s heart about broke each time Katie came home feeling like a perpetual misfit at work, Chelsea decided that Katie needed to reassess her skills and abilities. Maybe the reason Katie continued to “fail” was that she kept placing herself in the same situations. Might be a different store, a different job title, but Katie continued to choose those positions that drew attention to her weaknesses instead of playing on her strengths.
* Ask for input from others who are where you want to be and invite the counsel of trusted friends, family, colleagues on a regular basis. Mary and Rebekah had been fast friends since childhood, different as they were, the two used each other as sounding boards before either of them made crucial life changes. With their monthly coffee date approaching, Mary made note to ask Rebekah how she had steered her sons into the military rather than college. And why? With her own son tossing around the idea of signing up for the armed forces, Mary felt afraid and daunted by the commitment. Though his college tuition would be covered, was it worth the risk? Mary got on paper all the questions she had and decided to leave it alone until she could discuss the matter with Rebekah in person. Good counsel with a great cup of coffee laced with cream…made Mary relax.
* Do the necessary research, stay current, keep the plan in the forefront of your mind while attending to the small daily steps in between. Lynn was busy working on her fall back to school agenda. After years of being an at-home single mom, her kids were now out of the house. And Lynn was ready to complete that final year of college she never finished when she got pregnant with her first child all those long years ago. Excited and somewhat daunted, Lynn sat thinking about how she “coached” her three kids through high school and then college. All those nights when they wanted to give up, Lynn told them to hang tough, keep at it, and they would never regret their investment. Sighing, Lynn asked the Lord to give her the same “talking to” when she would want to give up on her dream to finish her degree. She knew she was no different than her kids, there would be days, maybe even weeks, when she’d ask herself if the cost was worth it. Small successes, isn’t that what Lynn had told her kids to find comfort and solace in…focus on the final goal…but be encouraged by every single step taken along the way.
* Never give up. Expect opposition; don’t run from it. Instead, adopt a student mentality; be ready to learn from every situation. Twenty-one-year-old Jillian cried all the way home. She’d flunked chemistry again, for the third time. She was so upset, so embarrassed. Her older sister never had this problem; Kelly had breezed through her science and math courses. So why do I have so much trouble? Before Jillian could even utter a word, she heard her mom’s admonition to get a tutor…but she hadn’t listened. Jillian didn’t think she needed one, oops. The hardest part to stomach was that her mom warned her this time she’d have to personally pay for the course if she didn’t pass because she hadn’t gotten outside help. What was I thinking, Jillian steamed, and didn’t I listen? I know what Mom will say, “Don’t give up, but be smarter this time and ask for help from the start.”
* Be flexible and open to changing direction when warranted. Three years into the elementary education program, Joe decided he didn’t want to teach the rest of his life. Didn’t even know if he liked kids! Well, that was an epiphany. Joe thought and thought about how to break the news to his schoolteacher mom. Well, no time like the present. Better today than after graduation, right? Or after working for a few years and hating it…I sure wouldn’t be doing any favors to my prospective students if I despised being there would I?
* Communicate with care and respect when offering experience or advice. Stephanie loved her daughter Megan and the two were close as could be. Problem was; Stephanie recognized that Megan was her mirror image; this was both good and bad. So when talks got to discussing touchy topics the heat level rose between the two of them, neither of whom was very skilled at backing down. Stephanie recognized as the mom, she’d have to take the lead in setting both the tone and content of their conversations, otherwise, Megan’s ears wouldn’t be open to hearing what she had to see and they’d both end up angry and frustrated.
Michele Howe is a LaSalle resident and author of “Burdens Do a Body Good.”