(Not So) Common Sense
Letting go is the toughest thing a parent will do
By Carole Townsend
It’s been said that our children will make us the saddest and the happiest we will ever be in life, and I believe that to be true. No, I know it to be true. My husband and I have experienced both the happiness and the sadness with our children, who range in ages from 23 - 30.
I must say that the happiness has far outweighed the sadness, but when a child makes her parents sad, that sadness runs far and wide. It’s because having a child is just like taking our heart out and letting it run around on its own.
It’s also been said, or discreetly intimated when I’m within earshot, that I always tended to be a control freak with our children. I’ll own that. I do admit that, if I could have controlled who their friends were, how seriously they took faith and school, and how they’d react to the boundaries we set for them, I would have. What parent wouldn’t? But I have also been guilty of wanting to do too much for them, to step in and smooth over hurts and problems for them. While I never thought that I did that (at least not as much as other parents I saw doing it), apparently I did it too much. As a result, a couple of our children have had to learn some tough life lessons the hard way.
Parenting (the word “parent” became a verb in our generation, didn’t it?) never really stops, no matter the ages of our children. The trick is to know when to step back, put down the reins, and let them start experiencing life on their own. We had our shot at guiding and teaching them when they were younger, when they still lived at home. Now, it’s their turn.
Oh that doesn’t mean that we as parents ever stop living a life that sets an example for our children. Rather, it means that we continue parenting by allowing them to start making their own choices and decisions, even if we think that they are making mistakes. I’m happy to say that our children have surprised me by making decisions that were the right ones for them, when at the time I believed that they were the wrong ones. Fortunately, I kept my thoughts to myself. Amazing how that one little act has so many positive repercussions, isn’t it?
Parenting helps us as adults grow and mature in a way that I believe we never could have without having children. They are reflections of us. They sometimes seem to be the exact opposites of us. We look at them with love and pride, with frustration and sadness. Our children take the person that we were before they came along, and they hammer us into being (hopefully) so much better than we could have ever dreamed. They teach us to lead while willingly taking a back seat to them. They teach us to fiercely protect and to passionately teach, even when teaching means administering discipline that really does hurt us more than it hurts them.
I admit that the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn as a mom is to simply keep my mouth shut now that they are all adults. I have learned to give my advice when they ask for it. More important, I have learned to keep it to myself when they don’t. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Years ago, my sister (who is twenty years older than I am, so she’s already blazed a trail for me) gave me a kitchen hand towel that reads, “Having children is like being pecked to death by a chicken.” At the time I thought that, while the phrase was hilarious, it communicated a negative view of parenting.
Not long after that, our oldest daughter tied our middle daughter’s feet together and told her to walk down the stairs. That bought us a trip to the ER.
Our son swallowed two quarters, and when I asked him why, he answered with my favorite kid response, “I don’t know.” The following week, he did it again. Another trip to the ER, where we were promptly laughed at and told to go home and wait for the quarters to reappear.
Our youngest daughter – when in second grade - stuffed a pair of high heels (that her biological father bought her. Totally inappropriate) into her book bag. On the way to school, she slipped off her sneakers and put on the heels. I got a phone call about that one. Come to think of it, I got a lot of phone calls courtesy of our youngest daughter.
The list goes on...and on…and on.
As I said, my sister gave me the kitchen towel years ago. Now, I get it. Peck. Peck. Peck.
The good news is that eventually, we get a grandchild or even a few out of the deal. The rule about keeping our opinions to ourselves, when it comes to the way our children parent, still applies. However, we get to use our age as an ally (Oh I’m sorry honey. Did you really tell me that she’s not allowed to have ice cream for breakfast? I must have forgotten.”). We get to take all that we learned as parents, and throw it out the window when it comes to our grandkids.
They are our best shot at redemption.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.