We have all the answers, we know the best way, we have the right experience, and if you listen to us you will live on easy street. Not so anymore. For the eighteen years we raise a child this is our mantra, and now it is their life they are embarking on with their own stories, their own experiences and their own learning’s. We no longer know what is best for them or how to fix it, because it is now wholly their life, and with any choices they make, they are responsible for impact of those decisions. They must live with those consequences good or bad, easy or difficult.
One of my daughters announced that she was marrying a man many years her senior and every fiber of my being wanted to cry out, “No this is a mistake, it’s too much disparity and it will become way too difficult!”
But the truth is, I didn’t know that. I couldn’t say that with any certainty at all. Who am I to say it wasn’t the right thing for her? How do I know that they may not live 40 or 50 happy years together.? Only she can know what is best for her. How am I to know what her life path is?
When our children were under our roof we fixed the boo boos for it was our responsibility. And now we must rip the band-aid off ourselves and let those days be in the past. It will most likely be up to us as parents to make this happen too, because they love love love it when we fix things. They will hang onto these strings as long as we will let them, but it doesn’t grow them (which is the crux of our job). From birth our duty was to raise them to grow up, create their own life, and become functioning, contributing members of society.
I remember the first time one of my children called home with a crisis and my response was, “Oh I’m so sorry that happened! What are you going to do?”
Horrified, my twenty something pleaded into the phone, “What do you mean what am I going to do? I called you to fix it!”
Tenderly I replied, “You can handle this. I know you can. You are so capable that I know you can come up with a solution.”
The shock of the hang-up left me standing in the silence of ‘What the hell, and oh my gosh did I do the right thing by not coming to the rescue?’ A wave of guilt washed over me, and the desire to call back and fix was so strong I had to throw on my shoes and go for a run without my phone, until it passed. The answer was ultimately yes it was the right thing, for the solution was far more brilliant and better suited than I would have come up with, the learning more extensive, and now fully melded into their bones.
When we fix, we don’t empower. When we hover or dictate, we actually do the opposite of what we intend. We want them to grow strong and mature, yet when we jump in and save the day, all we do is make them more reliant on us. We so completely adore them, that it destroys us to watch them ‘needlessly’ suffer or be in pain. Yet, the way we truly love them now is by taking one emotional step back for their greater good, letting them find their own way, make their own mistakes and clean up their own mess. And this is the hardest, let them clean up their own mess.
I’m not saying in all of this that we abandon our grown children. On the contrary! Remember when we took them to the doctor as an infant? Remember how they shrieked and grasped for us in pain and terror, wondering why we were letting the doctor hurt them and give them a shot? We knew that was necessary for them to get well and grow. We loved them so much we knew the pain was ultimately for their good. This is the same sort of parenting only in a grown up package. We have to let them fall, flail, fail, and fly. It is time for us move into the role of ‘I’m standing by to lend an ear and be a support. Always.’
We must hold them naturally creative, resourceful and whole; completely capable of handling their life in whatever way that plays out. Our new role is that of companion, confident, ally, and champion. We need to let them know we are taking one step back, because just like in the doctor’s office, it is in their highest good. And that we will now begin to walk beside them rather than in front. It’s painful for both when we clip the fixit fairy’s wings, but now we won’t stunt either our growth or theirs as we all move into the next season.
If we are honest and go a level deeper into our hearts, underneath fixing for the sake of our children, we find that fixing is also for us. When we make things all better, we feel good, validated and accomplished. We also wrap our self-esteem in the successes of our children. If they appear to be floundering, we feel as though we have failed as parent. And how do we tell our friends that our child’s life is a disaster without feeling humiliated because we take responsibility? We feel it is our duty to do whatever is necessary to be certain they stay on the right path. And yes, that was our job for many, many years, BUT NOT ANYMORE.
For years our identity has been wrapped up in being on call. Our whole job has been about being the hero. This is what we have done for so many years, we don’t know how to live without the rush we get from saving the day. What happens to us when we no longer have this status as we get ‘laid off’ from this parenting career? What props up our self-esteem, and gives us validation when we are not constantly being sought after to come to the rescue? In the next blog we will address “Being Ok With Not Being Needed.”