Setting Them Free

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I’ve always most appreciated the people who allow me to be me without judgement. We humans seem to do a lot of nit picking with people whose ideas and values are unlike our own. I’m not certain why we are like that because I suspect that every one of us wants to be able to determine the best way to live our lives. It’s irritating to have someone always questioning our motives or even second guessing why we do things a certain way. The fact is that we never really know all of what is happening with the people that we know. To attempt to interpret the reasons for their actions is generally impossible and mostly none of our business and yet we all too often wag our tongues. 

Parenting is one the most discussed topics. Each of us has an idea or two about how it should be done. I’ve learned that even though I raised two lovely daughters it is ludicrous of me to think that I should pontificate about what it is like to be a modern day mother. Put quite simply the world is a far different place than it was back in the seventies and eighties when I was a mom. For most mothers and fathers today the task of bringing up baby is made ever more difficult by demands that were unheard of when I was watching over my girls. Modern day mothers hold down jobs, chauffeur their children from one activity to another, cook, clean, do laundry, help the kids with their homework, volunteer, attend church, and often find themselves getting by on a minimal number of hours of sleep. In addition they are expected to exercise to stay healthy, keep the environment robust with their ecologically friendly choices, raise their own organic vegetables, teach their children foreign languages, and leap tall buildings with a single bound. It may sound as though I am exaggerating but I’m not. It’s a mad dash out there and most parents are exhausted from seeking to do and be the best for their little ones. It’s not just their peers who analyze their every move with the intent of bouncing on them as soon as they appear to make a mistake but also well meaning parents and grandparents who not only critique them but also demand their time. 

I used to go visit my mother every Friday without fail. My buddies at school knew that I would decline their “get the weekend started” invitations because I had that steady date with my mom. I also never missed a birthday, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Sadly no matter how much time I gave my mother it never seemed to be enough. She often complained that I was far too busy with meaningless activities and should have prioritized time with her. Her comments made me feel so bad that I was determined not to lay guilt trips on my daughters when they grew up and moved away from home. Mostly I have been true to my word although I sometime fall into the age old parent trap of laying on the whining. Mostly though I want my daughters to know that I understand when they have so much to do that they can’t find another moment to spare for me. I am confident that they love me without their presence and I want them to know that I rejoice when they have experiences and adventures that may take them far away from me. 

I always realized that my mother was very lonely and also afraid much of the time because of the paranoia associated with her disease. I purposely chose to live no farther away from her than thirty minutes so that she would always feel safe and secure. These were sacrifices that I willingly made for her but I also needed time for myself and my family. We all do, especially at certain times. 

My eldest grandson is leaving for college in the fall. He will be over a thousand miles away. I will be lucky to see him even once or twice a year. He and his parents annually attend a Thanksgiving reunion on my son-in-law’s side of the family. They also rent a house with the same family during spring break. It will no doubt be just a couple of days during the Christmas holidays when I get to spend time with Andrew but it will be okay because I am perfectly assured of his love. I also know that his dream is to travel the world and work in exotic places. He may wander even farther away from all of us once he gets his degree and that is as it should be.

I have so many high school friends who made lives for themselves in other states and even other countries. They lived joyfully. Hopefully neither their parents nor their grandparents ever attempted to make them feel guilty. It is in our natures to want to explore and those who care about us should be happy when they see that we are enjoying ourselves even if it is without them.

I’m not angry that my mother needed me so much. There were reasons for that and they were valid. Nonetheless, I learned from her mistakes and taught my daughters to be independent and to focus on doing and being the people that they most wanted to be. I don’t mope when they can’t be with me or if they don’t do things the way that I did. They have enough pressures placed on them from day to day. The last place that they need to find demands is from me. 

I sometimes counsel young men and women whose parents are making it very hard for them to determine the structure of their own lives. I hear stories of parents who won’t accept the people that their children love. Others insist that their adult children conform to their values and beliefs. I’ve listened to loving sons and daughters pour their hearts out to me because they have opportunities in distant places but their parents do not want them to go. I see young parents dragging their little ones from one grandparent’s house to another in a marathon attempt to please everyone. They too often learn that they have pleased no one.  

We generally become wiser as we age but we don’t have all of the answers. There is so much that I still don’t know and I am more than willing to admit that I am more often confused than certain. To insist that my children and my grandchildren think and act like me is absurd. They are different by definition and I would never wish to be guilty of stifling their natural development. 

One of the things that makes people more interesting is when they have many experiences and the confidence that comes from believing in themselves. I know full well that I can’t create outstanding adults by insisting that they be clones of me. I am only capable of modelling the behaviors that I most cherish, giving them a foundation of morals and ethics, and then letting them fly away. When they are gone it’s up to me to fill my own hours and to trust in them. If I have truly done my job as a parent and then as a grandparent I need not fear that they will one day abandon me. I am a firm believer that children are very wise and observant. If they have not seen hypocrisy in my words and my actions they will know that I am someone in whom they may trust. Our youth has always been particularly good at that. They are much smarter than we sometimes think.

Our children are not our possessions. We are granted the incredible privilege of helping them to adulthood and then we must always set them free. When we do they are sure to always come back home.

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