Last Thursday, we took my oldest son to college.
Drew Dunn is the first member of the Dunn nuclear family to leave the nest. For some pictures, take a look at the embedded Instagram post below (email subscribers can click through on the post or click this link if you don't see the IG post below).
I did fine - He's ready. He'll do great, and it's probably more important for him to be ready for the times he doesn't do great related to the next four years. The world we live in tells us we have to be perfect, and he's a bit obsessive when he turns his full focus on something. That's an incredible asset when it comes to getting results, but can be be a derailer if you don't keep it all in perspective.
I started thinking on the drive back from moving him into college about what I've learned in the 19 years we've had him under our roof. What have I learned that I wish I would have known 1, 5, 10 and 15 years into his life?
What advice would I give the younger version of me (as well as parents in the early stages of raising a kid)?
There's a ton of things I wish I knew back then. I'll share one big one that comes to mind, and I'm sure I'm not alone in learning this lesson from the school of hard knocks in parenting.
A lot of what I was worried about as my son grew up was complete Bullsh*t.
The biggest load of bullshit? The comparison between your kid and others that invariably goes on in your mind as they grow up. It's all or mostly Bullsh*t. Here's some examples:
Who's talking first?
Who's reading first?
Who's ugly? Who's pretty?
Is my kid where he needs to be academically? How do we make him better? Are we working hard enough?
Related to interests outside the classroom (could be sports, the arts, etc.), is my kid where he needs to be? How do I make him better?
What's my kid's ACT score? How's that compare to others? What can we do to improve it?
All bullshit. To be clear, I'm a big believer in the fact you have to train your kids to compete in life. So to the extent you push your kids to excel in all the things listed above and more, you're doing the right thing. You gotta compete, because the world's a tough place. I put Drew solidly in the "achiever" camp.
But the bullshit is what we do after we use comparison to gauge where we are and use it as ammo to compete. We obsess over where our kid is at in any pecking order, including the unattainable. We lose sleep over it. We chase resources to improve our kid's lot in any of the areas (and more) listed above to improve their lot in life. We point fingers and try to drag others down (hopefully only in our mind), often times not even being aware that we're doing it.
We're all guilty. You're in denial if you say you're not as a parent.
Along the way, bad things happen to other kids who are great in a lot of ways. We judge and rationalize that. We see kids and families emerge late or fade away late in all the areas above, and we rationalize and obsess some more.
None of it means anything. As long as you competed from where you started and did the work, you won. If you're healthy, free of addiction and of sound mind, you have already won.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Celebrating what you accomplished is key - regardless of whatever your "slot" is.
If I could give younger parents one piece of advice, it would be this. Use comparison with other kids as a means to compete in all the areas that matter to you and move up a few notches.
Then chill the F out.
Maybe you could celebrate the hell out of the small moves, and don't worry that your kid isn't going to make it to Broadway, the NFL, on American Idol or <Insert the stupid a** comparison, national or hyper-local that made you feel bad here>.
It's not about being number one, it's about the journey/process/road travelled, and your kid doing better than he/she would have done without some focus. We learn it a bit with our second-borns as all parents chill out with the second one a bit. But it's not enough.
It's about work and habits and nothing else. Comparisons that consume you as a parent mean nothing at the end.
That's what I wish I could tell the 2004 version of me.
I'm not sure he would have listened.