In a relay race, each runner has a specified distance to run, and then he/she passes the baton to the next runner to continue another length of distance and the baton is passed again and so on. The winner of the race doesn’t always depend on the fastest runner but on the efficiency of passing the baton for the smoothest transition.
I think this is a great analogy for parenthood. For the first twenty years of life we guide, model and help our children run the best race they can. But when it comes time for that child to transition into college, marriage, career or parenting, often we hang onto that baton for dear life because we simply don’t want to acknowledge that the next participant in the race can carry on better without our help. As in a race, we aren’t displaced when the next generation takes the baton. Instead we are clapping, cheering them on, encouraging and loving. Our race never ends until death…the end of the race. But our roles change. Unfortunately it took me quite awhile to realize I needed to let go of that baton and be a cheerleader. And sadly, I see many of my peers who are in the same boat.
One day, in my own continual search for parental enlightenment, I came to a light-bulb realization that:
- I am not responsible for ensuring my grown children have the best of everything nor am I responsible for bailing them out of trouble or discomfort. They are adults making their own decisions.
- I am not responsible for raising my grandchildren. I can be an influence without the responsibility of their everyday welfare.
- I am not responsible for making sure my grown children, nor my grandchildren, are polite, well-disciplined, well-dressed and comply with my sense of what is right.
- My advice may not be wanted. I need only give it when asked for.
- My opinion may not be wanted. I need only give it when asked for.
- I AM responsible to parent to the best of my ability when my children are small and dependent on me. When they are grown I AM responsible to pass the baton and let them run the next race, passing the baton to the next generation, their children.
This all sounds great until it comes to that very critical time of actually handing over the baton. In a race it needs to be swift and seamless. Accurate and almost magical. In life, that is rarely true. In life, parenting is like an airless popcorn machine. There is always something popping up that disturbs the rest. In life, Mom has had years of rescuing, soothing, advising, directing and nurturing. It’s like she runs the parenting race downhill and is expected to stop at the bottom, pass the baton to the next runner, her child, while she still has the momentum and can’t stop. It’s not easy. But it is necessary or the race gets bungled. Life gets bungled. Resentment, arguments and hurt feelings begin to cloud the relationship and the lines get blurry about who is in charge.
A good pass in a relay race requires trust. It requires that the first runner (Mom) has the confidence that the next runner (child) can run to the best of his/her ability. It also requires the second runner (child) has the confidence the first runner (Mom) will hand over the baton properly, with speed and accuracy and (this is important) plow ahead without looking back.
There are many examples in the Bible of passing the baton to the next generation but the most profound is Jesus passing the baton to his disciples, and those twelve passing the baton on to the next generation. Timothy received the baton from Paul and was instructed to pass it on to others (2 Tim. 2:2). A good leader always passes the baton to others. That’s what makes a good team, a good business, run smoothly.
There are many reasons why parents have trouble passing the baton. Everyone’s story is different. Every family and every need is different. But the truth is, if our goal is to equip future generations to be responsible citizens who give back to the world in leadership, integrity and productivity, we don’t need to cripple our children by hanging onto the baton indefinitely. At some point we need to trust them to carry on without our continual involvement and allow them to learn through failure, successes and all the adventures that will shape the world from generation to generation long after we are gone.
How well are you passing the baton? Are you hanging on and wondering why you or your children are frustrated, sometimes angry and demanding?
Many years ago I made a wall hanging embroidered with this quotation. It has been a standard by which we have raised our own children and they are raising theirs:
There are two gifts you should give your children.
One is Roots
The other is Wings.
This blog is part 1 on Passing The Baton. Stay tuned for Part 2: Who’s Playing In Your Backyard?