Without Me

The day after Christmas, I woke up feeling just a little bit “off.”  At first, I thought I had probably just overdid a bit over the holidays.  But as the day wore on, I felt worse, not better.  My throat hurt, I started coughing and I felt a little achy.  By the next morning, I was well and truly sick and stayed that way for most of the week.  The good news was that I tested negative for Covid three times, but the bad news was that I was absolutely miserable and unable to do anything other than lay around feeling sorry for myself.

4F20ECF8-0FF5-4683-8705-FDA15FC89E5ETypically, I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve relaxing and getting together with friends and family.  The work of the holidays is over by then, but the decorations are still up, the kitchen is stocked with cookies and other Christmas goodies, and there’s plenty of time to enjoy it all.  I hated missing out on all that, but as the week went on, I also began to feel guilty about all the other things I wasn’t doing:  walking the shelter dogs, keeping up with my blogging, hosting a small family gathering for my out-of-town sister, and even basic housework.  (I emptied the dishwasher one day and then had to go lay down for three hours to recover.)

Even worse, I was supposed to be spending at least part of that week helping my daughter care for her newborn son.  Her husband was working and her older son’s daycare was closed for the holidays, so I had promised that I’d be around to lend a helping hand.  But even if I’d had the energy, I couldn’t risk going anywhere near her house.  I didn’t have Covid, but I was still sick and probably contagious.

So there I was, not only sick but feeling very guilty about being sick.  I remembered how hectic caring for a newborn and a young child can be, and how grateful I was for any and all assistance.  I hadn’t seen my out-of-town sister in months and hated the thought of her going back home without us getting together.  I knew that every day I wasn’t at the animal shelter meant that the other volunteers had to walk even more dogs than usual, and that there was a chance that some dogs would miss their daily walk altogether.  I even felt guilty about not keeping up with the comments on my latest blog post, or keeping up with my friends’ blogs.

The silver lining in all this mess was that eventually I realized that sometimes I’m not going to be able to do the things that others want or need me to do, and that I need to stop fretting about it and simply accept it.  There are going to be times when I can’t live up to either my expectations or the expectations of other people, and I have to learn to be okay with that.  Stuff happens, plans go awry, and sometimes, I just need to go of the ridiculous idea that the world will crash and burn if I’m not carrying my fair share of the load every single minute.

My daughter made it through the week without my help; the blogging world kept right on going without me, and the shelter dogs all got their daily walks.  Go figure.  My sister was even able to stay in town long enough for me to recover and spend time with her, but she would have forgiven me if I hadn’t.  Because the truth is, none of us is indispensable.  Some of us just need to be reminded of that now and then…….

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.