Are you familiar with the show “The Amazing Race”? It’s the one where a group of pairs is given clues to a destination, a small amount of cash and a limited number of hours to race to that destination. Even the strongest of teams is tested in their relationships. Pairs have to hold up under the pressure of expectations – friends, family and observing strangers have decided if they will be successful before they even start. They have to work together, in extreme situations to solve the riddles and use money wisely. Some pairs seem to have the odds in their favor, others get hit with challenge after challenge, but the game doesn’t give do-overs. Choices have lasting impact on the game. Working together is the key to winning, with big rewards at the end.
I’m not the first one to make the comparison, but I got to thinking about how marriage and parenting is a lot like “The Amazing Race”. We leave our parents’ homes and pair up with the person we trust, relate to, the one with whom we can run the race. As we set out, we have a limited amount of time and resources and life is just one riddle after another. Our friends, family and strangers observe the way we navigate the challenges – will we get jobs that can sustain us, a decent place to live, will we grow closer and avoid the temptations of life or will we ditch one partner for a new one? One of the first and biggest challenges is becoming parents.
I don’t know if there’s any one choice, any one event in a couple’s life that draws as much support and critique as parenting. From the minute you share the news of your pending arrival, the judging begins. We can’t help it. I think we feel better about our choices when we’re comparing them to the successes and failures of other parents. It starts early and it never ends – the choice of doctor, baby name, brand of diapers, feeding, the parents’ jobs, the child’s entertainment, school, friends and activities.
We managed to pick a doctor that is well respect and loved. Check! No one seems (as much as we’ve ever known) to have a beef with the names we chose for our kids – Simon Peter, Jonah Matthew and Susannah (Anna) Michele. Choosing Pampers and Enfamil caused a bit of a stir in our circles, but not too much. Don’t get me started on the stay-at-home mom debate and all of the judgey attitudes I encountered – especially at CHURCH! We’ve navigated the twists and turns of their friends and aside from the recent scouting brouhaha, activities haven’t been a sticking point in our little world. But just as you think that you’ve got the “race” figured out, that you are working together as pair and advancing to the next round successfully navigating the years as parents, new pit stops stop you in your tracks.
Our oldest is just about a month away from becoming a teenager. (A moment of silence, please.) And let me tell you, if you have not embarked on this leg of the race, it’s a doosey! He’s a great kid – mostly respectful, loves God, mostly obedient, good grades. But now we’re dealing with how the choices of all of those other pairs are impacting our race. (Think, “but Javier’s parents let HIM do *insert new probably not age-appropriate activity here*.) [Simon does not have a friend named Javier, by the way] Specifically, what am I talking about? Well, there’s video gaming, dating, facebook and movies to name just a few.
We took those early legs of the race for granted. So what that we didn’t adopt the Baby-Wise method for sleep training or that I didn’t hand press and can our kids’ baby food. We’re still in the race. Everyone lived and we retained parental rights. But now we’re entering the semi-finals with our first kid. Sooner than we’d like, we’ll get to a checkpoint and instead of getting handed a clue for 5, we’ll get one for 4 and Simon will get his very own clue. From that point on, we’ll all be running the race, but Simon will meet up with us at the next checkpoint. Choices we make now, paths we take, compromises we make will have lasting impact on whether or not Matt and I hit the finish line together having raised children who became mentally, physically and morally strong adults who are running their own races well.
We have less time ahead, with Simon especially, than we have behind us now. Working together as husband and wife, as his parent team, is so important. We have to get and stay on our knees in prayer together to make wise decisions. We’ll be observed and judged. We can’t fight each other. (Kids smell weakness.)
So, as we’re running this “amazing race” of marriage and parenthood, we’ll make mistakes. We’ll take detours. We’ll barely make it to the check-in points in one piece. But, we’ll get some sleep, some new clues and a few more dollars for the next leg and we’ll keep running. Our kids won’t be our friends when we’re ticking them off by saying no to violent video games, too-sexy movies and facebook accounts too early. Our friends and family will critique our choices as over-protective or too conservative. But in the end, when Matt and I run across the finish line, hand-in-hand, and answer for how we’ve run the race, it’s not about whether or kids are our friends, but about hearing “well done, my good and faithful servants.”