Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When the Parent Becomes the Student by Jenny Gardiner

I find that as a parent it’s easy to get caught up in being the teacher. While raising children for such an extended period of time, we have long been the ones in charge, the ones to impart lessons learned from our own hard-fought experiences (lessons our kids usually want nothing to do with learning). Moms and dads become habituated into being right, which isn't actually the best of habits, when it comes down to it. But now that my kids are grown, more and more I'm finding that they've become the teachers, and I their student (sometimes willing, sometimes not so much). It's an interesting twist on the relationship but in many ways things seem to come full circle, which is nice role reversal. Take for instance my son, who watched his peers signing on for big bucks jobs during the end of his senior year of college, and opted against that himself. Back when I was in college, that was pretty much what you did. (Well, except for those of us with degrees in Liberal Arts, who watched all of our peers making gobs of cash while we practically lived in cardboard boxes beneath bridge spans and begged for our supper). But nowadays I think our kids are learning that there's more to being happy than making lots of money. You're likely to be far more content when following your passion than filling your wallet. My son did just that, instead choosing to travel for a while after working hard in college. And in so doing, was able to grow so much as a human being, immerse himself in vastly different cultures, learn a new language, and find inner peace under fairy Spartan living conditions. He reveled in being able to go with the flow, to be happy in the moment, and really grew to understand the importance of hard work. Such essential lessons to learn at such a young age, and I envy him that he was able to do that before becoming entrenched in the have-to's of life. But not only did he do that, he also did it with a great level of fearlessness. So much of what holds us back in life is our fears: we need to arm our teachers for fear of random shooters, we practically strip naked (and remove our shoes) for fear of terrorists on planes, we need to live a life of fear in order to have a false sense of security. It's really a rather twisted way of living, when you think of it. At the end of the day, none of us has much control over our lives, and to spend so much of our waking hours trying to control things so that they don't go badly can end up being very self-defeating. You lose the true zest for life that way. And speaking of fears, my older daughter teaches me often how important it is to not let worries win the day. Despite overwhelming fear of the unknown in going off to live in another country for a semester, she sucked it up and did it. And then proceeded to jump out of an airplane over the Swiss Alps, travel alone, staying in sketchy hostels at times, and even camp in the Sahara desert in Morocco despite not speaking a word of the language, which made travel there challenging. She shunned her anxieties and allowed herself the gift of going off to quite literally explore the world. It's not an easy thing to do; it's far simpler to be paralyzed with fear, which is what so many people opt for. In addition, she has taught me so much about facing down adversity. In dealing with various medical problems over which she had no control, she has powered through hard times and kept a brave face going. It's more than many adults could do. My younger daughter has shown me what strength and determination and hard work will get you. She worked hard enough to gain admission to an Ivy League school, no small feat. But then she had the maturity to decide the massive debt accrued by enrolling in such a school made little sense, and instead knew she would be perfectly happy at a highly-respected but more affordable school. And she regularly proves to me that if you keep chipping away at a problem, a solution will be found. She has shown me time and again that if you fight through it, you will succeed. Unfortunately, sometimes reflected off my children are my own vast shortcomings -- those things I desperately need to improve upon. It's my kids who will call me to task for being intolerant or critical or shrill. They're the ones who will remind me to not be impatient, or nosy, or annoying. And they'll gladly wince while telling me my jokes are painfully bad. They're sometimes too quick to find my faults but that's okay, because it's honest. I may not like what I see in the mirror they're holding up to me, but what better way to know what to prove upon? I don't know, maybe I'm just inherently quite flawed and they're wise to it. But I'd like to think this is just how the world works, and I'm at the tipping point now. It's their turn to get even, in a good way. I've spent more than 20 years imparting my dubious wisdom on my kids, but it's abundantly clear they have much more to teach me: to follow your dreams, to do what makes you happy and happiness will follow, to struggle through adversity, to prove them all wrong. I have become the Grasshopper to their Master Po (Forgive my bad Kung Fu reference), and I'm honored to be learning at their feet now. Jenny Gardiner is mulling whether she has the courage to skydive too. Until then, you can find her at

  Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
find me on Facebook: fan page
 find me on twitter here
 find me on my website


  1. What a beautiful post about all of the things you've learned from your children. It is amazing what important lessons our children can teach us (and not just about technology) if only we are willing to learn them. It's apparent that you are.