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“Do you know how Darth Vader got his name?” I recently asked my kids. Neither of them knew.
“His name was not always ‘Darth Vader.’” I said, “That name was actually given to him by his family. When his parents would ask him to do the laundry, take out the garbage, do his homework, play piano he would say, ‘I’ll do it later.’ ”
I watch to make sure my kids are listening. I am on fire.
“In fact, he said ‘Later’ so often that his family nicknamed him ‘Darth Later.’ They hoped the nickname would motivate him to get his stuff done.” My kids are still with me, so I continue. “His parents kept after him, and used the name Darth Later over and over and over, until they became irritated. Then they got angry and the dark side of the Force took over his parents and their heart’s turned dark. That is when they began using the name, “Darth Vader.”
I asked my 14 and 11 year old, “Do you know what this means?” They are putty in my parenting hands.
“The story is teaching you to do what mom and dad ask right away. That way you won’t become like Darth Vader.”
Do you want to know what my 14 year old said to that brilliant story? “I like Darth Vader. He has cool powers like lightening bolts from his fingers and a sword that can cut people in half.”
He obviously missed the point.
Parenting is hard work. In fact it is stupidly hard sometimes. Well, truth time, I am stupidly hard-headed sometimes. That is probably what makes parenting so hard. Parenting may not the path to happiness, but it can be incredibly meaningful.
One of my early jobs was teaching parent education. I taught the groups for a few years before I had children of my own. My approach was that I never tried to tell people how to parent their kids. I talked about life, about their hopes and dreams, and about things that made us both laugh. I shared a few things that I had learned growing up that seemed to work, and I was willing to learn from a lot of people. My experience went pretty well.
Then my wife and I had our own children. And I soon stopped teaching parenting. I think that in parenting, the stakes feel so high with every decision. If I watched too much TV together with my kids, I worried their brains would become like butter. I over analyzed my decisions and worried about a lot of things. We avoided sugar, caffeine, Nitrates, processed foods, Heavy Metal music and Prozac. But even with all of this, I still made more than my share of mistakes. I was too hard on myself and at times, all that I could see was my inner Darth Vader.
What do you with your inner Darth Vader?
Some days I can be a little like Darth Vader. I procrastinate, I have lightening bolts that shoot from my fingers and I breathe very loudly. No matter what I do, I radiate a force that is not positive and definitely not helpful. Thankfully those days are infrequent.
So I wonder, what’s the secret to this parenting thing? In my weaker moments, I imagine that there is a secret parenting habit that other successful parents use that I don’t. In my attempt to learn, I have read more than my share of parenting books. These books have helped, but I have learned more from watching other parents.
Do you want to know what I have learned? Most parents are doing what they can to make parenting work for them. I think one key to being a good parent is letting go and not worrying about doing it the right way. There is no rule book on parenting and most of the parenting experts disagree on things. But what works is understanding your own strengths and your weaknesses.
“I think one key to being a good parent is letting go and not worrying about doing it the right way.”
The Serenity Prayer reminds us that change begins with acceptance. Accepting our own Darth Vader moments is a start. Most parents are not like Vader every day. I think that owing when you are having tough days is important, and also acknowledging that you are not Vader all of the time. If you feel that you are more like Vader, take a vitamin or go for a long walk or something. Or watch the movie again and see what happens to Vader at the end.
In the next post, I will talk about Three Ways to Bring Out Your Inner Yoda.
Keep it real