Yesterday, my daughter earned her black belt in Taekwondo. I expected, today, that I would be overflowing with things to say as a newly-minted parent of a black belt in the martial arts. Instead, I find myself rather speechless. I can’t… I don’t… I’m not sure how to…but, I’ll try anyway.

Some of the greatest pleasures I have experienced in my life include being a witness to my children working toward finding success. A few years ago, my oldest (who is now 18), learned to play the difficult and very fast Pour le Piano by Claude Debussy on the piano. She practiced so hard and for so long that she made her hands bleed, but learn it she did, and I have the privilege of providing testimony toward that accomplishment for her.  Here we are with that as my role again, this time with my second born.

She and I, well, we argue. We argue a lot. It’s frustrating, and it makes me crazy. Still, I adore her. While I want to move Heaven and Earth for her, she generally prefers that I stand down.  As I awoke early on the morning of her test, I struggled with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. After all, I had not done much to help her prepare. Does she have the right food for her lunch? Should I have washed her gear? Does she need a pep talk? I proceeded to flood her with my good intentions. However, as it often goes, she reminded me of why I had not offered all of those services in the first place: she doesn’t need me to, nor does she especially want me to. She’s not ungrateful, just independent. It’s ironic that I find it necessary to remind myself that independence IS the goal.

As anyone who has been here knows, the road toward achieving a black belt requires years of training. For us, the last nine months or so were spent in intentional (or at least trying to be intentional) training, with the specific requirements of our school in mind. Like the action leading toward the climax of a great story, there has been a lot of struggle, a fair number of tears, many moments of misgiving, and some definite fear and pain. I’m sure that if she were to be writing this, the story would be told differently; but as for me, I experienced all of those things, but what really stands out is the continual wonderment as she surprised me over and over again.

Leading up to the test, I had imagined that afterward I would be filled with advice for all you martial arts parents on how to navigate a black belt test with your children. It turns out, though, that I don’t have much advice to give at all. My son, Lord willing, will be the next person in our family to test for his black belt. However, as it seems to go with so many things, I feel like few of the lessons learned with my daughter will apply to helping my son. He has a different temperament, a different learning style, different strengths, and different challenges. So, we will embrace the struggle and learn as we go. Again and again, it seems I have to remind myself that these “journeys” don’t belong to me. The life journeys of my children, though similar in some ways, are uniquely theirs. So, maybe I do have some humble advice after all—encourage them to work hard, and then let the choice to work hard be theirs alone.

Finally, as I contemplate my job as a parent of children both within and outside the world of martial arts, I’m struck by the question: Other than parenting, are there any endeavors in life in which you pour your entire being into making sure the outcome leaves you standing in the dust, waving? I wonder if that’s where the term “bittersweet” originated?

It’s glorious, I say, as I wipe the tears from my eyes. I’m so fortunate. God is good.  Also, I’m glad the fierce girl with the black belt is on my side!