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The Upside Down Economy of Parenting

Who you are and what you have to say and what you have to offer and what you thinkI want you to learn how to speak your mind. If you have a good idea, share it, because your words have value.
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The days go by and the minutes fly and suddenly, a year has passed. It is morning and then it is night. It is Sunday and then it is Friday and it is January and then it is November and another year is gone.

And just like that, they are grown. And she is still under the protection of my wing... but also discovering how to soar on her own. She still needs me to help her jump, but is determining the strength of her own wings.


And it is in these flights that she steps out of the house and into a world all her own. A world with other kids and comparison and keeping up and trying harder. Number-counting, letter-writing, soccer ball-kicking, knowledge-growing, skill-refining. And comparison and keeping up and trying harder.

And the worries spiral, these things that seem so very big.

Are we setting her up for success?

Should we enroll her in a second language tutor?

What musical instrument should we start to encourage?

Is she going to excel enough to get scholarships to college?

Will she stand out among the crowd?

These worries all seem so big.

But then, last night, she woke up at one in the morning. Something had stirred her mind and scared her heart so she called out to me. I sat by her bed and I brushed the hair out of her eyes, whispering a song. In that moment of stillness, her little hand glided out from under the covers and her fingers wiggled, asking to be held, too. And so I held her hand.

And it was when I held her hand that she stilled. We stayed this way in the quiet of the night and my baby fell back asleep.

And this little moment, this tiny sigh in time, suddenly felt big. So big that I pressed my hand into her own and pressed the moment into my memory and I sat there.

Because I began to wonder: What if the things that seem so big really aren't that big? What if the keeping up and the musical instruments and the tutoring and the athletics and the best grades on the hard tests aren't the very most important thing?

What if it is the small things that are actually big?

And my world is flipped. Because suddenly, the big things become small and the small becomes big. Parenting becomes an upside down economy.

Because so many times, it is the small things that add up to a life of purpose.

And so as for my role in the process of building a life, this is what I want to impress upon our kids:

1. Know who you are, what you want to be about and walk in confidence. Because the world will try to tell you otherwise, and it can be all too easy to let the allure of those shouts drown out the still and small voice of truth. I want you to be who you are, to be true to your identity -- not to be what you thinks others want you to be.

2. Create. Whether it's photography, writing, painting, singing or knitting, bring something to life that wouldn't have existed had you not taken the time, the skill and the love to bring it forth. Find what is most life-giving to you and then to go do that.

3. Express gratitude. Don't be entitled. Recognize the shoulders of those on which we stand. Say thank you to you high school teachers. The cashier at the grocery store. The person holding the door. Recognize your fellow human beings because really, we are all in this together.

4. Believe your beauty. Know that beauty is not defined by magazine covers or the number on the scale. I want you to be comfortable in your own skin and not listen to any other messages you might receive. Know that true beauty is knowing who you are and walking in confidence in that identity.

5. Offer help to others. Pick up the toy that the baby dropped at the store for his mom. Sacrifice time on a Saturday to mow our elderly neighbors' lawn. Get outside of yourself and your world. Show others that you are with them in this, both in word and in action.

6. You have much to offer this world. Who you are and what you have to say and what you have to offer and what you think matters. I want you to learn how to speak your mind and if you disagree with a situation, be able to explain why in a loving and thoughtful way. If you have a good idea, share it, because your words have value.

7. How to scale a mountain. Or how to backpack in Utah. Or to walk along a river. To get out into creation, step far away with it, where the noise is stilled, where you feel most at peace. To stare up at the stars in the sky and recognize just how tiny we all are. To use the strength and grace and agility of your body to play without an agenda and to get dirty and get tired.

8. To hold on to grace, because life doesn't always go according to plan. To learn how to handle curveballs, because there will be bumps in the journey. But even then, to hold tightly to what you know to be true because sometimes, beauty shows up where it's least expected.

9. To spend time with those that are not like you It will expand your thinking, show different experiences on this same earth and teach you that there are many different ways to live this life. It will mold you into a more compassionate and loving person, because things aren't always what they seem. Get outside of your context and the world takes on a new depth.

10. To play your note in this world. To figure out what you love, what makes your heart beat, what makes your world come alive and what you have to offer this world. To step into the places of need, the places of heartache, the places that need you. To sing love into this weary world.

If my kids can do those things, they will live this life well. Even if their name never makes it on a plaque, even if they don't graduate magna cum laude from the highest rated university, even if they don't score the winning goal in the state soccer match.

Because sometimes, worries and requirements and prerequisites seem so very big, but really just make us lose sight of what matters most.

And sometimes it is the small things -- the gratitude, the embracing newness, the confidence, the compassion and humility and hard-won work ethic -- that are actually so very big.

And so as we go out and influence these little lives and place building blocks in front of them on which to stand, may we not lose sight of the little within the big. May we encourage play and creativity and generosity and gratitude and being true to oneself. May we be able to quiet the voice inside of us that speaks fear and worry over their future and comparison and keeping up. May we instead lean into these small things that create big love and big character and big confidence and pursue these just as much as we would that next trophy. May we spur our kids into their passions instead of our own and cheer them on even if it is different than our dreams or plans.

And the days will still fly and our babies will still grow and we will still worry because that is what parents do. But in these things, these little things, we help to remind them as well as ourselves of the things that are precious and valuable in this life -- and that is a big deal.

Sarah Sandifer writes about her thoughts on life, motherhood, and marriage at where portions of this post first appeared.