Hospitality Geared Toward Blessing vs. Impressing

photo from partycity.com

Photo from partycity.com

I first got a clue about entertaining when I was in my early twenties. My aunt was hosting a bridal shower and a few of our female relatives were asked to help prepare the food. Each was assigned a dish. “And be sure to bring a crystal bowl for the buffet table,” she’d said. “That way all the food can be served from crystal bowls.”

I thought the crystal bowl thing was a stroke of genius. I’d never considered serving food from matching dishes before! In fact, I knew nothing of what was entailed in real entertaining–that hostesses needed to consider not only food and beverage, but also serving bowls, plates, flatware, napkins, cups, table coverings, center pieces, etc. I simply had no idea how much forethought, organization and creativity went into a proper celebration!

I was intrigued and wanted to absorb this knowledge about beautiful presentations and hospitality. So I paid close attention and made mental notes. Some years later, I hosted a bridal shower for my soon-to-be sister-in-law complete with little crust-less finger sandwiches served on a three-tiered display that I’d picked up along the way.

But there was more to learn. After children came along and I stopped working outside the home for a while, coffee with other mothers became a thing. I remember so looking forward to the company. But I especially noticed that coffee was always served with some type of pastry or banana nut muffins or blueberry scones. Sometimes homemade. Other times, store bought. It didn’t seem to matter. But presentation seemed integral with floral patterned paper napkins and cream and sugar sets. I made more mental notes. But once when I offered to host coffee at my house, I was either too lazy or too busy to make or buy food. So I served only coffee. When the first of only two guests arrived, I apologized for not providing snacks and received a comment that kinda floored me. I expected to hear, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” Instead, she said, “It’s okay. You’ll learn.”

For a moment, I kinda wanted to rant just like my mother did when her sister asked her to bring food to a bridal shower in a crystal dish. But, what I’ve come to realize is that upping your game when it comes to hospitality is more than an added bonus for your guests. In some cases, it’s what’s proper. But in most cases, it’s about bringing out your best to bless your guests.

Okay, now I get it. Well, almost. This past year, I had a conversation with a friend about what’s appropriate to serve to any casual guest, whether formally invited or of the pop-in variety. She explained to me that her parents are of a certain age that they expect to be offered a beverage at the very least whenever they visit somebody’s home. So maybe it’s generational? I’ve tried to remember this, especially if we’re entertaining guests of a certain age. We had some over 70 pop-ins this past week. I right away offered ice water. They readily accepted. Whew. Didn’t blow it.

Then again, maybe it’s not generational. I once tried to save a buck by buying beer in cans for a smallish gathering of friends. One friend declined the beer with a comment along the lines of being too old to drink cheap beer. Got it. Beer in bottles and preferably of the micro-brewery variety labeled with kitchy names like swamp water or bathtub brew.

Another time, when I served dessert to a small group and asked if it was okay to top it with Cool-Whip instead of real whipped cream, I’m pretty sure somebody groaned. So now I only buy Cool-Whip for that church cookbook marshmallow fruit salad recipe that old folks and children on the tundra seem to love.

Now I’m not trying to overwhelm anyone with implied rules for entertaining. I am a firm believer in letting folks grab whatever they want right out of my fridge, especially any teenage friend of our children. Have at it.

And I’m fairly certain that my family and friends are not the pretentious prigs they may seem like in this post. It’s really not about crystal dishes or bottled beer. It’s about my learning to view everyone who enters our home as an honored guest. It’s about trying to make people feel special even if for just a little while. Cause life out there is hard. And when you come here, I want you to feel loved. I’ve learned the value of a little extra effort, that in most cases, it’s much appreciated. Although there was that one time when I hosted a dinner party and one guy said eating off anybody’s good china made him feel uncomfortable. I guess I can’t win. Good thing I’m not trying to “win”.

photo from ameliasaltsman.com

photo from ameliasaltsman.com

I’m no Martha Stewart or Pinterest professional. I’m just trying to learn from others so that I might be able to serve others as best I can. I want my door to always be open. I want company to always feel welcome at our dinner table. And I never want you to think you’re not worth the effort.

What do you think? Are there any rules to entertaining? How do you make guests feel special? Does it matter?

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Is Anybody Buying What You’re Selling?

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Anyone who’s ever been in sales likely knows about the “pen test”. I failed my first “pen test” when I was 22 years old. A fresh faced college graduate with Working Girl  dreams schlepping my briefcase from brokerage house to brokerage house on the hunt for a job in the midst of a recession. Most hiring managers were impressed with my chutzpah. But a successful stockbroker is a successful sales person. And sales people must be clear about what they want and they must ask for it–something I find too many non-sales people are reluctant to do–and that’s unfortunate. Because thinking clearly about what you want and articulating clearly what you want are vital life skills. It also helps mentally compare motivations with values to check that they are in line.

The “pen test” is a good measure of a basic sales skill. For me, it went like this: one of those brokerage house managers listened intently as I prattled on about my academic accomplishments and work ethic, etc. He glanced at my resume and complimented my aptitude. But then he did something I thought a bit strange at the time. He plucked a pen from a holder on his desk and handed it to me. “Please try to sell me this pen,” he said.

Thinking this a very odd request but knowing that the first rule of improv (and desperation) is never to deny an invitation, I took the pen and began to list all of its many features and benefits.

The manager listened. And nodded. And smiled. But he never gave an indication of when I was finished selling the pen. It seemed he was waiting for me to say more. I continued with my flowery narrative: how stylish the pen was, how smooth it wrote, how it wouldn’t leak in your pocket, etc. But his face remained unchanged and seemingly underwhelmed.

I finally stopped talking about the amazing pen and asked, “How’d I do?”

He retrieved his pen from me, replaced it to its holder and said, “You did fine but you forgot the most important part.”

“What?”

“You never asked me how many pens I wanted to order.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

We can’t just talk and talk and talk when we want something to happen or someone to act. At some point, we need to clearly say what it is we want. Salespeople want a sale. But everybody wants something at some point. Are you making it clear what it is you want–when you’re having a disagreement, when you’re nagging your spouse or children, when you’re complaining at the customer service counter or to your boss or to your staff? If you’re not getting what you want, maybe it’s because you haven’t asked. Maybe you don’t even know.

A couple of years ago, a teacher said something to my son that upset him so much, he didn’t want to return to school the next day. He buried his head under his covers distraught at the possibility that his teacher disliked him. Fury vibrated in my soul and my blood boiled at the thought of someone, especially a teacher, upsetting my child to such a degree with careless words. I called the principal and requested a meeting. I remember still shaking with indignant anger while gripping the steering wheel during that drive to the school. Then, I paused and asked myself, “What exactly do I want from this meeting?”

A fair question. Always. Venting frustration and complaining about things we don’t like or believe are unfair do little to nothing to solve any problem unless we can articulate what it is we want an offending person to do.

Sometimes we just want to be heard. If so, say that. Sometimes we want an apology. If so, say that. Other times, we may want revenge or to inflict pain on those who’ve hurt us. If that’s our motivation, we need to hit the pause button and take stock of our values and behavior.

In the case with my son, I wanted him to feel safe and accepted in this particular teacher’s classroom. And once I’d figured out exactly what I wanted, I knew how to state my case and ask for it. The principal and teacher readily agreed. The teacher even hugged my son when he returned to her class and assured him that her words were not meant to be hostile. She would never be my son’s favorite teacher (and possibly he was never her favorite student) but they could co-exist with an understanding based on clear expectations that were in line with good values.

I’ve tried to ask myself this question, “What do I want?” whenever I lead a meeting, write a blog post, return an item to a department store, plan a vacation, consider a job opportunity or find myself feeling depressed or jealous or fat or unhappy. And what if I answered that question by saying, “Today, I want my actions to give glory to God.”?

Because what good is it to wallow in negativity or aspire to some vague notion of joy? Emotions come and go. They are unstable and unpredictable.

Like counting our blessings, examining what drives our thinking and thus, what it is we want, and then practicing the skill of being able to speak that truth in love can go a long way in accomplishing personal and professional goals. It can also help smooth out rough patches in relationships and dial back a tendency to simply complain when we’re unhappy.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

We can tap dance around most any issue ad nauseam. But eventually, we must offer ourselves and the world clarity of motivation and desire. Only then will we know if anyone is buying what we’re selling.

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Seeing Beauty in the Broken Body of Christ

World Vision wants the whole world to have access to clean water.

How beautiful is the body of Christ. Over the years–particularly in the past few weeks–I’m reminded of the multifaceted meaning of this statement. For me, to hit the pause button on this busy life and ponder the beauty of the holiest man to ever live and how he sacrificed his life that all may live… how beautiful. And to bear witness to the body of Christ–the church–living as Jesus lived; sacrificially, intentionally, with love, mercy, tenderness and grace… how beautiful.

When the hubs and I were about to embark on a cross-country move 20 years ago, far away from all family ties and childhood friends, we asked another couple who’d done the same for advice. They said, “Find a church and jump in with both feet. Get connected. Get involved and immersed. Even if you believe you’ll live in a place for only a short time.”

So after driving from Michigan to Washington, unloading our furniture, dishes and our freshly minted wedding album, we went on a hunt for a church home. There is no magic formula for finding the “right” church. The hubs and I have Lutheran backgrounds and so that helped us narrow our search. We found a place that felt right, and by “felt right” all I can say is, we wanted to return each Sunday. So we followed our friends’ advice and jumped in. We joined bible studies, attended potlucks, offered requested input on staffing decisions and even warily joined with the choir on an Easter Sunday when they summoned the congregation to the front to sing the Halleluiah chorus. The singing that day sounded truly awful. Only the choir knew all the words and most of them were Q-tip haired octogenarians whose singing voices had already gone on to heaven ahead of their feeble bodies. But nobody cared about that. A beautiful sound wasn’t the point. The beautiful body of Christ was the point. And it was SO beautiful. In that place, people we hardly knew cared for us for two years. They invited us to barbecues and Christmas dinners. We celebrated the births of their children and mourned the deaths of their loved ones. We helped raised money for a leaking roof and for needy families. It felt like home. Like family. I’m so glad we jumped in even though we would only live in Washington a short time.

Two years later, we relocated to Minnesota, and began again. We attended Sunday services at a few local Lutheran churches and discovered one that kept drawing us back, and so, we “jumped in with both feet” again. We’ve now been members at Woodbury Lutheran Church for 17 years. We’ve seen pastors and members come and go. We’ve watched toddlers become teenagers, celebrated weddings and attended funerals. We’ve seen self-sacrificing, Godly people bring comfort to the infirm, offer endless prayers for the lost and lonely, feed the hungry, fix leaky roofs, care for disabled children, adopt orphans, house the homeless, support struggling families and bring praises to a loving and forgiving Creator each and every day no matter what that day may bring. How beautiful.

Kirk Ingram suffers a spinal cord injury.

Kirk Ingram suffers a spinal cord injury.

Going to worship on Sunday morning is like going to a family function–only so much better. Because despite all of our combined dysfunction, deficiencies and occasional despair, together we find joy and delight in the presence of the Almighty–and in community with each other. This is our family. And it is beautiful.

A generation ago, the church played a central role in American community life. Today, for far too many folks, church is viewed to be either an outdated ritual to be shrugged off or shunned or a strange and mysterious club that intimidates with its cliques and secret handshakes. Trust me. The “right” place is neither of these things.

I have found church to be a safe place to learn a moral language and develop a strength of character steeped in ancient biblical wisdom. I’ve found church to be a place to discover who created me and for what purpose. It is a community of believers (and some skeptics) who are journeying together in this life toward the next. And when I get distracted by all that needs to be done Monday through Saturday, the church points me toward the cross every Sunday. And it is beautiful.

I’ve found church to be the place to find perpetual renewal and to be surrounded by people who love each other despite personal failure and where people support one another through the struggles of this life. We rock each other’s babies. We comfort each other’s sick. We dine together. We drink together. We laugh together. We cry together. How beautiful is the body of Christ.

 

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Give Thanks

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

I can hardly ever stay awake late enough to watch the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But our family does enjoy Fallon’s sense of humor and Friday nights are our favorite time to watch the Tonight Show because Fallon does this bit called “Thank You Notes.” His fake thank you notes are always good for a giggle. But it’s Fallon’s comedic delivery and the band’s silly participation in the gags that really make me chuckle.

But the whole endeavor does get me thinking… do younger people–the Tonight Show’s more consistently awake late at night demographic of millennials–actually write thank you notes in real life? Is the concept of a thank you note even still a thing in 2015? Well, it should be.

I was never taught the proper etiquette of writing thank you notes as a young person. But I’ve learned over the years that it is something we should not let slip from the culture or our good manners. Now, I’m not saying I’m very good at always remembering to send a thank you note. But I do try and I also try to instill the practice in my children.

As I mentioned in a previous post about gift giving, repayment in kind when receiving a gift is unnecessary and shouldn’t be expected. Repayment for an act of kindness is also unnecessary, is sometimes not even possible, and should be paid forward to others. But saying thanks is a must and should often be expressed via a thank you note because writing and sending a note requires just a tiny bit more effort than simply saying the words. (I’m planning a future blog post about how effort improves self-discipline and is a useful act of character building. Stay tuned.)

For now, purchase an inexpensive box of blank notes or boxed note cards with “thank you” printed on the front. And whenever you receive a gift or have been blessed by some out of the ordinary act of kindness, take a few moments to jot a note and send it along.

The process of regularly sending thank you notes accomplishes several things. It builds character by actively practicing an expression of gratitude. It improves your writing skills. It lets the gift giver know you’ve received their gift and that you appreciate the thought even if you don’t always truly appreciate the gift.

Be sure to have your children send thank you notes for birthday gifts and any other gifts they receive for special events like confirmation or graduation. I asked our son to write four thank you notes each day after his confirmation party. That way, he was finished within a week and didn’t feel overwhelmed by being asked to write them all at once. And believe it or not, some young people don’t know how to properly address an envelope or construct a thoughtful yet concise thank you note. This is good practice and the importance of expressing gratitude is always a good topic of discussion with the kiddos.

That said, I have a couple of additional opinions on the matter:

Electronic thank you notes are okay. I’ve used Red Stamp and DaySpring to send electronic greeting cards via email or text message. A handwritten note is still best but I’m not a stickler about the method of delivery. It’s truly the thought and effort that count. Plus, sometimes you just don’t have any stamps. And don’t get me started on the United States Post Office. A friend believes many young people don’t even understand how the mail works. She may be right. She often is. Do school children even go on field trips to the post office in the digital age?

Nobody should expect a thank you note. Sending them is a good habit to get into. But not getting a thank you note is by no means any reason to get your undies in a bunch. Let’s pull the tree trunks from our own eyes before picking at the pollen in someone else’s. No need to pass judgment on a simple lack of tutelage or time.

Finally, thank you notes should be sincere, succinct and simple. Gift recipients are not required to fawn over or act like they’re in love with any gift purchased for them. If I buy you a crummy gift and you give it away or donate it to your favorite charity, not a problem. Gift giving is about showing that we care enough to make an effort at being generous just as writing a thank you note is about showing we care enough to make an effort toward expressing gratitude. But if we choose gifts poorly, no harm done. Better luck next time. So if you ever end up buying me a crummy gift, I surely hope I’m gracious enough to send a thank you note before I toss it in the donation pile.

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Best Relationship Advice EVER!

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

During a lovely dinner out with a friend, she and I got to chatting about when our children were small and how difficult that stage of life could be. I joked about long days spent soothing a fussy infant and then giving the hubs a death stare if he dared return from work and ask me what I’d done all day. Sometimes I’d drag the vacuum cleaner out and just leave it in the middle of the living room floor–a ruse to convince the hubs that I’d at least attempted to tidy up. This would often blunt his insensitive inquiries. At least that’s how I always interpreted his truly innocuous attempts at making conversation. Sleep deprived, exhausted, milk stained, poop stained and hormonal–I would often assume the hubs was passing judgment on my homemaking abilities.

My friend smiled supportively. But surely she thinks my “baby days” quaint and quite compared to hers. This brave woman endured double the “fun” as her initial experience with motherhood involved having twins!

“How did you do it?” I asked.

She replied with what I believe is some of the best relationship advice EVER. She said that when her twins were babies, and she and her hubs were navigating the separate worlds of an at home parent and a working parent, they arrived at an agreement. It went something like this…

“I agree to believe that you’re doing the best that you can if you agree to believe that I am doing the best that I can.”

Now this agreement surely helped grease the skids of understanding during a difficult time. (Parents of infants and toddlers please note, things do get easier. You will sleep again one day. In the meantime, consider making a similar agreement with your spouse.)

But even though my friend’s twins are grown and my children are inching ever closer to being grown, this “agreement” is still applicable, especially during times of high stress or when life reliably throws its myriad of challenges at your marriage. So the next time you feel compelled to snark at your spouse or pass silent judgment because your expectations or needs are not being met, make an honest assessment of the situation. Chances are, given the circumstances, you’re both doing the best you can. And if not, then maybe you should chat about what you’re going through whether it be parenting challenges, pressures at work, an illness in the family, etc. Honestly discuss needs and expectations and figure out how to get closer to the “agreement” until the storm passes.

TAKE NOTE!

This “agreement” only applies to healthy relationships during periods of temporary challenges. It is not an excuse to let long-term bad behavior slide. I’ve seen your type before. Hell, I’ve been your type before! So if you’re one of those overly-accommodating and overly-sympathetic types who make excuses for someone who is lazy or rude or is otherwise unsuitable life partner material, don’t even begin to nod along with this particular relationship advice. It doesn’t apply to you. And here’s why…

There are plenty of folks in the world who struggle with addiction or dabble in adultery or chatterbox from the couch about their dream job while you pay the bills. These people are likely “doing the best they can” but that doesn’t mean it’s good enough for you. So if you’re setting the bar too low, you may have relationship issues that no blogger (nor any amount of wishful thinking) can help resolve. Seek professional help. Or if you’re not already married to or have kids with this person, maybe consider moving on and finding someone whose “best” more often than not delights and surpasses your expectations. Someone about whom you don’t have to frequently tell your parents or girlfriends, “he’s doing the best he can.”

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I’m A Conscientious Objector in the Mommy Wars

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

I’ve never been want to participate in the “mommy wars.” I’ve just never seen any point in trying to justify my parenting choices by attacking the decisions of other women. At least not to your face anyway. :)

But then, something funny happened the other day. Not funny, haha. But funny in that a random comment from another mom actually got my dander up. It’s not what she said that truly bothered me. It was my reaction, the more than a minute I’ve spent pondering this woman’s words and my temptation to respond in a way that I’m glad I didn’t.

The interaction went something like this–I was playing tennis. A doubles match against two women I’d never met before. Part of my tennis strategy is always to chat up my opponents, ask about their kids, smile and joke around between points. I’m not a particularly strong player, so my kill ‘em with kindness tactic is always in the hopes that it’ll be distracting enough to smooth out any killer instinct edges on the other side of the net. Plus, getting all pissy over a ladies league tennis match seems almost as ridiculous as the privilege of spending an afternoon playing in a ladies league tennis match.

So, I was playing tennis. Conversation ensued. The other women talked about their kids. I talked about mine. My partner and I win the match. Who won isn’t relevant to this story. But I feel you should know. We won. :)

Me and my partner ready to take it to the court!

My regular partner and I prepare to take it to the court! (Summer 2014)

Okay so, during all the youth sports and summer programming jibber jabber, I also mentioned my job as editor of a local lifestyle magazine and freelance writer. I said how I mostly work from home, have a flexible work schedule that accommodates my kid’s school and activities schedule and also allows me to play some daytime tennis. A great gig. Truly. I love my job.

Anyway, one of the women said something that stuck with me like a barnacle I can’t quite scrap off. She said, “Well, I guess if you have to work, it’s good you like your job.” Or something like that. Only the first eight words stuck in my brain. “Well, I guess if you have to work…”

I didn’t respond. I think I nodded or blinked five or six times. I may have had a small stroke. Maybe it was the summer heat or the adrenaline fueled joy of winning. (Did I mention I won?) Anyway, it wasn’t until I said a pleasant “goodbye” and “nice to meet you”, changed my shoes, paid my court fee and walked to the parking lot that I noticed the crusty barnacle of her words stuck to my psyche and how I wondered if I should have said, “I don’t have to work.” Oh good Lord in heaven, I’m so glad I didn’t say that. I would have hated myself for saying that even if it is true.

It’s true that the hubs earns more than me. His income pays the life sustaining bills. If he bailed, my income would likely qualify for food stamps. True enough. But our arrangement is something we’d planned long ago. When I once said–before we had children–that I wanted to hire a nanny and travel the country as some high-powered exec, he said, “then I’ll stay home with the kids.” Wait. What? No. No. No. For me, letting the hubs have the joys of full-time parenting triggered some serious jealousy in my slowly softening maternal heart. If (I say if because this was yet to be a fully formed option in my mind) one of us was going to do the full-time parent thing, it was going to be me.

After I burned through all of my disability income while on bed-rest pregnant for our first-born and thus, lacking much maternity leave, I was summoned by my employer to a meeting in Boston. This was shortly after our premature, neo-natal intensive care unit baby was beginning to sleep without his heart rate dropping through the floor and setting off hospital alarm bells. That’s when I officially quit my job.

I felt no compulsion to defend my decision. Even when my boss offered me more responsibility and a larger territory as enticement to stay. (Duh, think about it dude. Maybe offer parents a little less responsibility and you’re tracking with a new mom who wants to be with her kid.)

Anyway, when carrots didn’t work, he tried a stick. He said to me, “What are you going to do? Hang out at a country club all day playing tennis?” I rolled my eyes at his comment and skipped off into a land of sleepless nights and tear-filled days with my precious newborn.

Despite the serious irony of my old boss’s comment, I didn’t step onto any tennis court for 12 years. (An actual country club membership never was and still isn’t part of our one income family financial plan. I pay to play once a week and that’s that.) But around the time I started playing a little tennis, I also started easing back into paid employment. And I love my job. It’s no corporate ladder climbing affair. But I love what I do, the people I work with, and that the gig offers the flexibility to still parent my kids in the way our family has become accustomed.

I don’t have to work. But, for the first time, I felt a pang of what working moms the world over must feel when another woman passive aggressively lobs a mommy war salvo into her lap. Maybe this woman didn’t intend to be malevolent. Maybe she simply spoke an altruism, that if anyone has to work, it’s nice to love your job.

I’m just really glad I didn’t respond. That I just got in my car and drove away. Hopefully, by better appreciating the challenges of working women, this sticky bad vibe barnacle will eventually fall off all on its own.

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How Much is Too Much Parental Guidance?

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

Graduation season is upon us. Bring on the cured meats, dinner rolls, deli salads and sheet cakes. Glad-handing graduates is always a good time. Plus, there’s no need to cook on open house days.

But as I stuff envelopes with overpriced and unoriginal greeting cards and bits o’ cash, (what is the going rate for grad gifts anyway?) the hubs and I find ourselves in a looping conversation about where to send our kids to college.

It seems adults tend to project their own experiences onto their offspring and it’s no different with us. For me, having lacked guidance and financial support during that stage of my life, I’ve always felt a bit short-changed of education opportunities afforded to upper-middle class students. Plus, when I was in high school, the college test prep and application process had yet to become an extreme sport for American parents. But either way you shake it, I’ve dreamed that my kids would receive what I lacked–access to the highest levels of academia. But I’m unsure how to get them there. I don’t micro-manage or even check up on their homework. But I have mastered the stern, eyebrow lifted look of disapproval at any lack-luster grades. And our kids are at least bright enough to understand their parents’ expectations regarding academic achievement and try to avoid “the look”.

But the hubs and I diverge when it comes to my hero-worship of well-branded institutions. He sees little incentive to pay big bucks so that our kids can have a well-recognized name stamped on their degree. Maybe he’s right.

But the hubs is also extremely cautious of steering our kids toward any particular degree or career choice. One of our boys excels in math and science. So I figure–since the world seems to be clamoring for brainy math and science types–that it’s wholly appropriate to chat him up about possibilities in the realm of engineering. I’ve poked around online for engineering school rankings and once signed the boy up for a career day at 3M–a math and sciencey type employer in our own backyard.

But the hubs is concerned that we might be pigeon-holing our son too early. That a high school freshman who shrugs whenever you ask about his “passion” is too young to know what he wants to be when he grows up. The fear is that without a burning desire to pursue any particular career, kids will just do as parents say and potentially end up stuck in a job they hate; bored and burned out. (Ahem, projecting our own experiences?)

On the flip side, our middle school son is an artsy people person. He has on occasion said he’d maybe like to be a schoolteacher or even a pastor when he grows up. Prepare to shake your frowning face and say “tsk-tsk” when you discover that I’ve nay-sayed both of these vocations. Why? Because I fear a lack of job satisfaction, job security and low income. (Gah! Projecting fear based on my experiences with being broke.)

What I’ve said to the younger son is likely worse than what I’ve said to the older one. Unless you believe a child with some idea what they want to do with their life won’t really listen to reason anyway. Plus the hubs, with his always irritating and irreverent logic, reminded me that becoming a pastor is a calling and is not something I’m likely to wholly negate with concerns about financial stability. His concern is more about kids who don’t have specific ideas. Kids who might aimlessly follow their parents’ advice and later blame them for any potential unhappiness. (Or credit them for success? I know. I know. Shame on me. Blah blah.)

Okay. So I am reminded of a friend’s struggle with this issue. She’s the mother of children exponentially more brilliant than my own. One of her brainy kids once said they wanted to be a schoolteacher. She scoffed at the notion since her then soon-to-be high school graduate was accepted into a prestigious smarty-pants college science program surely more suited to her child’s potential. But that didn’t last long. What followed was a couple of years in community college and low-skilled employment until these exasperated parents inquired about their twenty-something’s plans for the future. Welp, guess what? The kid sheepishly admitted to still wanting to be a schoolteacher. And God bless those parents for coming around to support that decision.

You see, this parenting thing is a learn by doing endeavor. And most of us really are trying our best. And that’s good because our children need our guidance and wisdom lest they cleave to the notion of becoming professional video game designers or athletes. Oh hush, it’s unlikely your kid will become a professional athlete. Just sayin’.

But how do we balance parental guidance with our children’s self-discovery? How willing are we to trust that our kids will be alright? I suppose it begins with recognizing that we are doing alright. We made it through. And if we’ve laid the proper groundwork, so will the next generation. Some will discover their passion. Others will stumble into a suitable vocation. And college is simply a step along that path. It’s not an end of the line–a win or lose gamble. So let’s all try to relax. Or at least help me try to relax.

Kudos to your graduate! May they navigate their next steps with guidance more divine than mine.

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