I feel at home in Roseburg now, but for a long time it wasn’t mine. My first years here were full of loneliness — what Mother Theresa called “the poverty of the West” — and community, by my pretentious big-town standards, was difficult to find.
With no family nearby and a new church where I wasn’t known and didn’t seem to fit, I wanted out as soon as I could find a way.
If I could go back eight years and give myself some advice, I’d start with the question my mother has been asking me a lot lately: “What do you want this to look like in 20 years?”
Admittedly, this question is easier to answer once you are established in a place and/or family situation and don’t have to face a world of overwhelmingly infinite possibilities anymore. But even eight years ago, I could have benefitted from the challenge to think about what I wanted and how I could start planting those seeds.
Now that I have spent some significant time being married and having children, I know a lot more about who I am, what I’m doing and what I want the end of it to look like. It’s much clearer to me what parameters I want to build my life around, and that question challenges me to think about what will happen if I plan and what could happen if I don’t.
Twenty years from now, I want lots of children who call and visit. I hope I’m not done bringing new life into the world yet, so I’ll say most of my children will be grown and creating lives for themselves without my oversight in 20 years.
I can let this idea scare me into tightening my grip on them now and savoring every moment or I can ask myself what I hope to give them for their journey and light a fire under myself to make that more of a priority.
I was lonely as a young wife and new mother here in a new town, so I would love to equip my daughters to handle such a situation better than I did — with more initiative, vision and courage and less of a self-absorbed and victim mentality.
What would that look like? My first thought is to foster relationships between them and young women ahead of them on this journey who would be good role models. I trot out my list of past and present babysitters and realize that these are young women who need role models too.
Wait a second — what if that’s me?
What if my investment in my daughters is truly cyclical and the foundations of their characters and adulthood rest on the energy I put into not only them, but the young women who already have — or someday will have — influence on their formation?
This is a sobering thought. Parenting isn’t at all as simple as having children. In order to be done well, one must begin with the end in mind. When I consider the implications of this, I realize that I have a stake in the growth and betterment of my whole community — anyone my children will look to for examples — rather than simply my own family.
The love I have for my children needs to radiate beyond the walls of my own home in order to have a further reach when they leave it.
The truth is that I can’t control who my children look to for guidance when they are grown. But I can put boundaries and people around them to build them into the best people they can be. In order to do that, I can’t just focus on my children; I have to attend to the formation of the young people around me who look at me to figure out how to do life and be an adult.
If I ignore them or pretend that their journey isn’t as important as that of my own kids, I am a fool. I would be throwing away some of the most powerful tools I’ll want to hand my children in their young adulthood — role models I have helped to mold and guide and encourage.
I don’t pretend I “get” teenagers. Somehow the generation gap seems to be widening at an alarming rate, and I am already so behind. But I can love them, and I can listen to them, and I can provide a safe place for their hearts rather than disdain their strange customs if I choose to.
And if that’s what wisdom means at this stage of life, I have a new job to begin.