Thoughts: Acceptance, a year in

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This morning on Facebook, my son reminded me and the world that it has been a year since he left his home in Virginia, and moved up here. It was not an easy move. It was a heartbreaking one, leaving behind his school and friends he had grown up with since Kindergarten, on the cusp of his senior year. It was a fleeing really, a situation he felt he could not stay in without being crushed, and yet, leaving that all behind was also a crushing thing.

His sister had come to the same place five years earlier. Feeling crushed and battered, she made the same choice, leaving behind all she knew to live with a father she did not know well.

Neither of them knew me well, in fact. They had been raised to mostly not trust and dislike me. It hadn’t fully taken, but there were lingering doubts. They knew what I was like during visits and vacations, but living with someone day in and day out is something different entirely. They knew I told them they were always welcome, but still….. Truly, it was an act of courage and faith, as well as a sign of how tough things had become for them emotionally, that they made the leap and fled to my little corner of Vermont.

They both came here broken. I think it was nearly a month before my daughter said anything to me that had more than one syllable. She was in a kind of shock. My son was more vocal, but no less broken from it all. In time, both of them opened up to me. They learned I was pretty much what I seemed to be. Trust has grown. And both have blossomed.

My daughter, while she was here, finished her Girl Scout Gold Award (kinda like the Eagle Scout thing in boy scouts), she finished her high school on-line while traveling with me, held down jobs where she was loved, took those credits and graduated from her old high school, got into the college of her choice, majored in her first love (Historic Preservation). While there she won awards for leadership, became an RA, then a Senior RA, managing a number of people under her. She works at a museum in DC.

My son began on the same track with an on-line high school. When the school system in Va messed up on the requirements, he had to shift gears and enrolled in the local high school. He did not have to – he had enough credits to graduate there already, but he chose to take several classes, and quickly became ingrained in the schools culture, leading plays and productions as technical director. He built a wide circle of friends in a short time. He got and held two jobs. With a gap year ahead of him he is looking to find more work, and the county’s school system was so impressed with his work with the lighting systems that they will he using him to direct some major upgrades in the theater this summer and next year. He’s regained confidence in himself again,

It was hard for me, not as hard as it was for them, but still, hard for me to see them come up here a shell of themselves. My heart broke both times. As much as I love having them here, I would never want the kind of pain for my kids that they both were enduring when they first arrived. I wished better for them, even if it has worked out well.

But as in all things in my life, I learned some lessons in the process.

You know how it is. We all say we believe certain things, or believe certain things about ourselves, but often they don’t ever really get put to the test. So it’s easy to believe them. We coast along in life sure of our untested principles. We all do it. There’s nothing wrong with it. It just is.

And I had some of those things in my life.

One of the biggest beliefs I held was that most people don’t need a lot of critique in their lives. They need encouragement, yes. Support, yes. Maybe a little discipline when they are little. But as we come to ourselves, most of us know our strengths and weaknesses at a pretty young age. We don’t need to be made into anything. We need to be allowed and encouraged to be the best version of who and what we are.

That is not an easy thing. We’ve been taught that people need to be told what to do. As parents we are told to mold our kids into this or that. As managers we are told we have to make people this or that. And we think we know best for our kids, or the people who work for us, or those we work with. Generally, though, we don’t.

I am not talking about discipline here. No one gets to run wild on my watch. But I am talking about trying to make someone something they are not.

My father was pretty overt in his desire that I be an engineer. I heard it day and night from the time I was a small kid. The fact that I hated math and anything related to it never deterred him. This whole artsy, creative, spiritual thing that was me drove him crazy. He was thrilled when I went to Virginia Tech, a major engineering school, for college, but then was dismayed when I went there and became an English Major. He shook his head at my going to get my masters in (gag.) poetry writing. He never did figure out why I went to seminary. When I began to make a living in designing broadcast systems, he thought I had become an engineer. But even though I was working with a lot of technology, what fascinated me was the design, workflows, the human element of putting all these studios and control rooms together.

The whole engineering thing didn’t take. Nor did the “don’t talk about your feelings” thing. A lot of things did take, but none of them are the things that he tried to change. And I struggled with that for a lot of years, that battle between what I was told I “should” or “should not” be, versus what I am.

When my kids came back to me, each at the end of a junior year in high school, there was a temptation, a strong temptation, to fall into that same pattern, to tell them what to be.

Fortunately, I resisted.

Because that part of my job as a parent ends pretty young in their life. At some point, and it’s earlier than we think, our job becomes listening to who they are, and working within that framework to help them become the best version of that.

My kids are great. And crazy different. There is no one size fits all. Very little of what I learned with my daughter (the older) has helped me one single bit with my son. They don’t tell you that when you have them. Heck, you’d think something would transfer. Nope. Nada. Zip. Life with them has been one big learning curve. Nothing I do or say with one has much value for the other.

But what I have learned is what I thought I believed, but had never put to the test. People need acceptance more than advice. They need love more than correction. They need to be listened to more than talked at. Most people will make the right decision for themselves if listened to and allowed to hash it all out without being given the answers. That premise, now proven, has influenced my work and ministry both.

Because it’s not just a kids thing. I’ve seen it work when I managed companies and divisions of companies. I’ve seen it work in my ministries. We rarely need to be told what to do, we just need a safe place to hash it out, someone we know is on our side, no matter what. Someone who respects us enough to trust us. Someone who does not beat us up with our failures, but loves us through them.

I say it often – I HATE why my kids fled to live with me here in Vermont. But I have loved having them here. And not least of all because of the lessons I have learned as they each found their way. I did nothing, except accept them and give them a safe place. And look what happened.

They were enough, just as they were. And that is the lesson for most of us.

I just hope, when the last one leaves in a little over a year, I have other things in my life to help me learn those lessons of life. I’m kinda dense. I need reminders. And the two of them have been the best.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

2 thoughts on “Thoughts: Acceptance, a year in

  1. Tom,

                    What an amazing piece of wisdom!  You have nailed it exactly and not just as a parent or a grandparent but as a human being.  If only a few people would take this and run with it and change their part of the world how much better we would all be.  This is like a candle flame that could light the life of one other person, to light another and another…thank you for sharing this.  I am so sorry your children came to you so broken, many of us are, but you helped them put themselves together and that is awesome.   Peace and joy to you.

    Diane Soden-Groves

    From: Quarry House Reply-To: Quarry House Date: Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 10:41 AM To: Diane Soden-Groves Subject: [New post] Thoughts: Acceptance, a year in

    Tom Atkins posted: ” This morning on Facebook, my son reminded me and the world that it has been a year since he left his home in Virginia, and moved up here. It was not an easy move. It was a heartbreaking one, leaving behind his school and friends he had grown up with sin”

    • Diane – I do think it is something important. More and more as I age, I come to understand that what we need most to become our best selves is acceptance and love. Simply that. Yet it is so hard for so many to give, because it also means giving up (the illusion of) control. Sigh.

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