This weekend we’re all heading out to “Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains” to visit Sam’s grandparents and attend homecoming at Milligan College, our alma mater. Thinking about Milligan reminds me not only of academic subjects, friends, and the good times I had there, but also the life lessons I learned without even realizing it. Since I spent 4 years at Milligan, here are 4 lessons about parenting I learned at Milligan, even though I didn’t know I was learning about parenting and wouldn’t become a parent for years after graduating.
1. Leadership is service
Milligan’s classic catchphrase, “Servant Leadership”, was incredibly well demonstrated to me during my time there. I can’t think of a faculty or staff member who did not live up to their responsibility to lead students through their service to students. Additionally, I am proud to say I was a member of the Institute for Servant Leadership and participated in a number of different service projects, including playing a leading role in some.
Furthermore, I learned how to be a leader during my time at Milligan. Thanks to the opportunity to direct two one-act plays, edit the Phoenix my senior year, and serve as the president of Sigma Tau Delta (including organizing not only public poetry readings, but also a public reading of literary criticism), I learned through hands-on experience what it takes to be a leader.
In some ways, parenting might be best described as servant leadership. I’m not sure there is any better way of describing the actions of a servant than by discussing what I do as a parent on a daily basis: I feed, clean, and care for Sam, since he is incapable of doing any of that on his own. However, I also have to provide leadership for him by putting others’ needs first: his needs, his mom’s needs, and what is best for our family and community. Milligan taught me how to do that.
2. Life is incredibly interconnected
Humanities. A word that can still instill fear in the hearts of alumni everywhere, conjuring images of blue books and all night cramming sessions. I have to say that I loved Humanities and learned a lot from those four semesters beyond the Praxitelean Curve or Pascal’s Pensees. I learned that it is impossible to separate the world into neat little boxes of literature, science, history, art, theatre, philosophy, music, or architecture. The world is messy. The scientific discoveries of the Renaissance directly influenced the art of the time and it is impossible to act otherwise, even though it is tempting to act as if science and art are diametric opposites, along with “left-brained” and “right-brained” people.
Like I learned in Humanities, parenting is something that suffuses every part of your being. It’s not a job to be picked up and put down, because even when you are away from your child, you still think about him and act with him in mind. And when I am with Samuel, I have learned that everything I do with him influences how we interact. Parenting is just as messy as the rest of the world, although that burp cloth I’ve been using might be the messiest thing of all.
3. Mentors can teach you a lot
Like I said in point 1, Milligan is full of wonderful people. I’m not sure you can graduate without making a deep connection to at least one faculty or staff person. I was blessed to have a number of people who cared deeply about me and my success, and I learned a lot more than how to evaluate an academic source for a research paper or the intricacies of a properly diagrammed sentence. I got to watch these people live their lives in ways I wanted to live my own life and I got to talk with them about problems in my own life and figure out how to help solve them.
However, some of the most valuable things I learned were how to treat my own wife and children. How to love, serve them, and lift them up. How to deal with the pressures and injustices of the world. How to create and fulfill goals for my family, regardless of how big or small those may be. Thanks to Milligan College, I saw love and parenting in action, and I was able to learn how to do that myself.
4. You can learn a lot from different people
Yet another seminal Milligan experience is Christ & Culture, the capstone course that everyone has to take before they can graduate. One of the final assignments in that class is to spend some time with people “different from yourself”, because of how easy it is to lose sight of how the rest of the world views life.
Ever since then, I have consciously tried to be sure I look at life from others’ perspectives. It tends to teach you not only about the rest of the world or new things, but also a great deal about yourself. This has been invaluable in my life and parenting so far, by helping me determine what works and what doesn’t, and what is good for my family and what is not–and to my surprise, those answers have not always been what I anticipated before hand!
You can learn a lot from people that you hope to emulate, as I mentioned in point 3. But it is just as important to realize that we all have so much to learn even from people we may have no intention to emulate at all. Parenting is no exception! I have loved learning how different cultures, and even different American subcultures, choose to parent their children. However, I might have never chosen to make a conscious effort to think critically about the world if I had not been shown how.
You know, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t include this bonus lesson I learned from Milligan.
5. Everything’s better with a good chase
I studied Theatre while I was at Milligan, including spending two semesters touring local schools as part of the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) class. One thing Prof. Major always emphasized was how much kids love a good chase scene, and I don’t remember ever seeing a TYA performance (or being in one) without a chase.
I may not be doing much chasing yet, since Sam hasn’t learned to crawl, let alone walk or run, but I have no doubt it will be happening every day soon enough. I’ll have to be sure to join in the chase and give our cat–whom I am sure will be chased by Samuel far more frequently than he wants to be chased–a break every now and then.
How about you? What lessons about parenting have you learned when you didn’t expect them?