The Painful Irony of Raising Children
A couple of weeks ago I was commiserating with a friend about the painful irony of raising kids. We agreed that our job as parents is to raise our children to be independent of us. We teach them to make decisions and to problem-solve, how to work hard and be responsible, and most importantly, to be able to live separately from us.
Yet, letting go is against the essence of my love for my family, my need to keep them close to me and safe from harm. The hardest thing I’ve had to do, after a lifetime of protecting my children from pain, is to let them make mistakes that will cause pain, to attend that old school of hard knocks.
As I reflect back on my education, it wasn’t so much the lectures and reading that increased my skills, but rather the homework, the actual application of the lessons. It’s one thing to know what to do and another thing altogether different to put that knowledge into action. I’ve always been better at remembering lessons learned from the actual experience than having someone else tell me what will happen. Such is life, such are the lessons our children need to learn.
This is also a lesson I’ve learned as a Christian. It’s through pain that I’ve learned to grow in faith. Looking out my window at the rain today, I know skies will eventually clear and the sun will shine again. This helps me endure the bad weather and enjoy the sunshine even more. This is a lesson our children will learn too, if we let them.
My Christian faith comes from knowing that God is always waiting to help me if I ask. I know He’s always there to listen without judging, even though I know judgment is his right. I want to be that kind of a parent for my children; always there and ready to listen without judgment, without offering my unsolicited opinion.
My dad was the best listener I’ve ever known. For that reason, I probably told him a lot more than he wanted to hear. Nonetheless, he never criticized me or made me sorry I confided in him. He always came and left with a smile. I want my kids to be able to say the same of me as I learn to accept them as adults.
As my children are maturing into adulthood, I’m working on maturing into being the parent of an adult. One skill I’ve gleaned from my relationships with other adults is listening more and speaking less. More often than not, when friends want to talk with me about their problems, it’s not to seek my advice, of which I have plenty, it’s to process what they’re thinking and to find affirmation of their emotional reactions to whatever is happening in their lives.
When it becomes too much for me to keep my mouth shut any longer (after all, it begins with a conversation) I ask “why” questions, as in “Why do you feel that way” or “Why do you think that happened?” I’ve found that this type of question helps lead them to increased clarity of their situation. My children deserve nothing less. The more I listen, the more I learn about them as adults and about their lives outside the nest. I listen with respect.
Respect is a crucial element of love. Listening with respect without inserting my opinions into the conversation not only shows them that what they have to say is important to me, it also establishes that spending time with me, is being in a place of rest, a safe place, a healing place. Isn’t this why we turn to the Lord? As a Christian, think about how and why you seek the Lord in difficult times.
The Lord is our refuge and our strength.
Be that refuge for your children, never forced, but always available to listen. And be a place of mental repose. One of the most important gifts God gives us on this earth is his covenant that he is always there with us, for us. He waits patiently until we need him. This is what gives us confidence to persevere. This is my promise to my children, to help them develop the confidence to fly away from the nest.
So, what do you do with that empty nest? That’s up to you. I’ve been filling mine with things that I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time while I was raising my children. Now I get more exercise in taking walks and doing yoga. I’m also learning to play the dulcimer! I’ve been making myself go out with friends more, attending outdoor concerts, volunteering as a driver for the American Cancer Society, taking classes to learn new skills, and learning to say “no” to things that I don’t really want to do but have done out of misplaced obligation. My kids are grown and gone, and with them, the fulfillment of the obligation I loved the most.
Yes, I’m sad to see them go as they establish their own lives built on their own identities. But I’m also very proud of them for who they’ve become. And I’m proud of me because I’m being strong enough to do what’s best for them, and that is to open my hand and watch them fly away.
This is my greatest sacrifice and my greatest gift: to love them enough to let them go. Does this sound familiar, loving them enough to give them free will? I thank the Lord for allowing me to be whom I choose to be. For this reason, I will always return to Him in need and in love. Likewise, I’ll be here when my children need me. Until then, I’ll be out back, probably practicing my dulcimer.