Letting Go

I’m really glad my children were all grown up before I ever heard the term “helicopter parent.”  It’s supposed to refer to the kind of parents who are always at their child’s side, organizing things just so, arranging and scheduling every moment of their child’s time and in general doing their best to make sure that their child’s life goes smoothly, in all ways and at all times.  Helicopter parents are a frequent subject of ridicule in the media and on the internet, with no one admitting that they are one and everyone blaming them for all the ills of the current crop of children and young adults.  So I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit a dirty little secret:  I’m pretty sure I qualified, if not as a full-fledged helicopter parent, at least as a drone wannabe.

Martha and Daniel with WhitneyAll I can say in my defense was that I had the best of intentions.  I didn’t want my kids to be the smartest, most popular and most athletic kids in the class, but I did want them to be happy and well adjusted, and spared from the kind of pain I remembered all too well from my own childhood.  And so I stayed too close, was overly protective, was too quick to try to right a wrong, and too often took their pain and disappointments as personal affronts to my parenting skills.  I might not have over-scheduled my children, but I was over-involved in details of their lives that would have best been handled all by themselves.

I know part of the problem was my own personality, as I am a natural worrier and organizer, and not at all the type of person who is able to easily “just go with the flow.”  I think many of us have unrealistic expectations of what we can and cannot accomplish as a parent.  Recently, I read a blog where a young mother stated, “I know that my job is to make all my kids’ dreams and wishes come true.”  There was a time when I would have agreed with her, but now I just wanted to tell her that her job is only to help teach her children how to make their own dreams and wishes come true.

My son and daughter are both in their late twenties, are each either married to or engaged to a wonderful person who loves them, are working hard at building their careers and are busy exploring their own interests.  In other words, they managed to survive my helicopter parenting without any major damage.  And they are patient with me when I backslide and begin to inquire as to whether or not they are exercising and eating right, remembering to lock their doors at night, and in general treating them as if they weren’t smart enough to manage their own lives just fine.

I think the final job of parenting is learning to let go.  That means letting go of the guilt that we weren’t the perfect parent we wanted to be, letting go of the desire to constantly guide our children’s lives, and letting go of the child they were in order to accept the adult they have become.  For every parent, there comes a time when the only thing worth hanging onto is the love.

 

 

One More Try?

My husband and I have been official empty-nesters for almost three years now, and it’s been nine years since we’ve had both of our kids living at home full time, so I’ve had plenty of time to get used to the idea that both my son and daughter are grown up and out on their own.  But planning my daughter’s wedding really drives home the fact that my kids are now bonafide, independent adults, so I suppose it’s only natural that lately I’ve found myself spending a lot of time reminiscing about the years I spent raising them.  I know I was the best parent I knew how to be, and I’m more than happy with the way my son and daughter turned out, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look back and find a lot of places where I wish I had done things differently.

I wish I was more patient when they were young, both my myself as I was learning what it meant to be a parent, as well as with my children.  I wish I had spent less time and energy trying to make sure everything was “just right,” and more time being spontaneous and accepting of the hectic, messy and joyous reality that small children bring.  I would like to be more certain that I didn’t let my frustrations with other areas of my life (too many rejection slips from the editors I sent my manuscripts to with such hope; too much turmoil and too many pay cuts with my husband’s job at the time) effect the way I treated my children, making me more demanding and impatient that I should have been.

Martha & DanielI would have liked to have spent less time worrying about the small stuff:  why my daughter barely talked she was a toddler (she’s been making up for that one ever since); whether my son would ever gain enough weight that his pants would quit slipping down over his hips (that was before “sagging” became a fashion statement); whether they were keeping up with the other kids in terms of their skills and abilities.   And when they were older, I wish I hadn’t taken it quite so personally when the world wasn’t always kind to them, and they didn’t make a sports team, or a former best friend suddenly dropped them, or they didn’t get a good grade on a project they worked so hard on.  It’s never easy for kids to learn that life isn’t always good or fair, but I’m afraid that I made it much worse when they had to deal with my disappointment as well as their own.

In short, what I’d really like is a “do over” for the times that I wasn’t as good of a mother as I wanted to be.  And of course I know I can’t have one, and that regretting the past is mostly a waste of time that benefits no one.  The most I can do at this point is to stop longing for a non-existent “do over” and simply resolve to try to “do better” from here on.  I may not be able to erase my past mistakes, parenting or otherwise, but I can learn from them and use them to help me become the kind of mother, and person, that I really want to be.   I may not get to have a “do over,” but I do have, and will always have, the chance to do better.