I just finished reading the book What Alice Forgot by Laine Moriarty with my wife. It is a very good read and I recommend it to you all. This is the second book I have read by Ms. Moriarty (The Husband’s Secret), and she is a first rate writer with depth and surprise, i.e., the stories don’t end the way you think they will.
I tell you about What Alice Forgot because the title has double meaning, and the double meaning gave me much to ponder. The plot (I promise no spoilers here) revolves around a woman who falls off her bike in a spin class knocking herself unconscious. When she comes to she has forgotten the last ten years of her life. The meat of the book is revealed as she discovers who she has become over those forgotten ten years from the perspective of a much younger her.
So what does this have to do with careers? Well, Alice, the title character, reminds me (I suspect she will you, too) of many moms I have encountered with increasing frequency over the last thirty years. These are women who see their role as mother as a job to perfect and their company’s product is their children. Success is measured by the schools to which they gain admission and the jobs they land upon graduation.
The goal of success is not the problem; it is the belief that success can be orchestrated by creating a resume of the right activities and the damage that does to the creativity, independence, and soul of the children.
I was reminded of a recent interaction I had with a young man who is currently a junior in college. He is very bright, went to the right high school, played the appropriate number of team sports, engaged in the right amount of extra-curricular activity, and is currently attending a good college with an eye, according to his mother, on a lucrative career.
I asked this young man how school was going and his reply was an unenthusiastic, “OK”. Upon further inquiry he revealed to me that he was very worried about his future. He had no idea what he wanted to do upon graduation and no idea how to go about finding out.
I will grant you that his plight is shared by many a college junior, but as I remember back to my college years something has changed. There was no sense of challenge or excitement about still having the discovery of his direction in life ahead of him. He was truly and deeply anxious about having no direction except the one that had been decided for him and about which he had little or no enthusiasm.
I have raised three of my own children, and I understand the hopes and fears of watching them as they struggle to master a rapidly changing world that I understand less and less on a seemingly daily basis. But the anxiety for one’s children cannot be resolved by scripting their lives. Doing so doesn’t help them. Ultimately they will all come to the place where the script runs out. If they don’t know how to write their own, they are in deep trouble.
As challenging as it is to grasp and harder yet to live out, letting your children discover their own paths and their own interests, have their own failures and their own triumphs is the only way they will be truly successful. Our children need guidance, support, and love not a Day-Timer filled with appointments, lessons, and meetings.
It is easy to forget what, among many other things, Alice forgot and what Kahil Gibron stated so elegantly in The Prophet:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
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