A stunning new dining hall at my sons’ school features this quote from Shakespeare engraved in stone high on the front wall: “Strive Mightily, but Eat and Drink as Friends.” It is an appropriate quote for a school where the competition and camaraderie are strong threads knitting together a community that spans generations.
But sadly, all too often parents and children “strive mightily” at the family dinner table, instead of “eating and drinking as friends.” Misguided efforts at control disrupt precious family fellowship.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I am not one to just take the easy way out. In fact, sometimes I think I approached parenting with the motto “There must be a harder way!“ as if the hardest way was always the best way. No pain meds during labor, four sons in 5.5 years, cloth diapers, homeschooling – I did what I thought best for my children, even if it was hard. Hard is not bad, just hard.
But in some areas, it seems that my husband and I took paths that were much easier than those chosen by many of our friends. And we didn’t do it because it was easy, but because we thought it best.
Owen was 8. His brother’s friend was 14. We were all in the car driving to the lake for the weekend. The friend called his mom. “Did you remember to pack my contact lens solution?” “You didn’t! Mom, you always forget that!”
I looked at Owen in the rearview mirror. He was staring at the friend with a look of serious concern. Once the friend was off the phone he asked, incredulously, “Did your mom pack your suitcase?”
“Not very well!” the friend replied. Owen began to giggle. “My mom has never packed my suitcase!” Although this was not completely true, Owen had never known a day that he did not pack his own suitcase.
The youngest of 4 boys, Owen has always thought he was as old and as capable as his brothers. Early on, I would give the older boys written lists of items to pack for trips. Owen could not yet read, but asked me to draw pictures of what he needed. Pretty soon he could not be bothered with the list and just made his own packing selections. Admittedly, he has a preference for packing light. Once for a week at the lake house he packed a toothbrush, two swimsuits, a white t-shirt, and his church clothes. He managed just fine.