By Jill Ceder
Becoming a parent opened a window for me and allowed me to view my parents in a new light. Being a therapist did the same. I spend my time at work talking with individuals about how their parents had an enormous influence on the kind of child they were and the kind of parents they are or want to be. As I speak with individuals about facing challenges, dealing with emotions, and connecting with others, I find myself sharing phrases my dad has said to me throughout my life.
Here are a few of his most valuable life lessons:
1. Things are never as bad as they seem, things are never as good as they seem. This phrase was said often as I became a young adult: when I got a bad grade, got rejected from a college, or got a great job offer. To many of us, situations seem only amazing or awful. We feel the need to be perfect or else we are failures. My dad avoided jumping to extremes, and spent time and effort teaching me that I could behave the same. It was only after I became a therapist that I realized my dad was unknowingly teaching me about cognitive distortions and “black and white thinking.” He gave me the gift of living in the grey zone.
2. You can add value without being the best. My dad wished for children who were good athletes. Unfortunately, my brother and I were not. My dad was the coach of my Little League team and I was one of his worst players. Instead of sticking me in the outfield to chase butterflies, or putting me in a position I really wasn’t qualified for, he made me catcher, so I could I be part of the infield but still feel okay if I dropped the ball now and then. I learned to contribute and succeed in my own way.
3. Parents do not need to agree with all their kids' decisions; they just need to support them. I transferred colleges and changed my career after I turned 30. As a man who likes to be prepared and secure, this made my dad incredibly nervous. He did not agree with some of my decisions but he always told me that whatever path I chose, he and my mother were behind me. Looking back, I realize I felt confident to make those changes because of the support he gave me.
4. Make time for family “meetings.” As an office manager for most of his career, my dad took on the role of head administrator of our family. He often organized meetings with us as a group, or individually. In his meetings with me, we would go over school paperwork, bills, college applications, camp packing lists—anything on paper that belonged in a file cabinet. He would show me what he was filling out, the reasons behind his answers, and answer any questions I had. As a teenager, I would roll my eyes but as an adult, I find myself having meetings with my own family. Because I now know that my dad's meetings not only taught me how to take care of the paperwork in my life; they were also an excuse to spend time together.
5. Show up for the people who matter. As an adult, I've realized how deeply this lesson has been ingrained in me. Life isn’t about doing everything for everyone; it is about doing the right things for the people who matter. Call when you know someone needs to hear your voice; surprise your child by showing up at their sporting event; make the effort to do something nice when it may not be most convenient for you. My dad taught me that being a good person means being good to those who mean most to you.
Jill Ceder is the Childcare Expert for About.com. She loves working with parents, writing about parents, and being a parent.
Photograph via Creative Commons