Keep Calm and Parent On: Step Back and Watch Them Fly
“Hey son, how do you think you’ll feel in 20 years when you look back and know that you didn’t walk across the stage for your high school graduation?”
Those were the words that I spoke recently to my 18-year-old graduate. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to hear him say, “Well, when you put it like that, Mom, I think I will be sad, so I think I should walk across the stage.”
Those were not his words. Instead, he said the opposite! But as I asked him the question, I saw weight, seemingly, lift from his shoulders. I saw a slight smile cross his face. I saw peace. And then I, too, felt peace.
I did not arrive at this place of peace quickly or easily. I have always been the mom that encouraged much and required little. Yet with each of my children, there has been something that I “forced” with the knowledge that it would be beneficial in the future. With one child, it was trying a musical instrument. With another, it was trying a sport. With yet another, it was taking a dual-credit class while still in high school. Each of my kids has had their “Mom made me do this” moment, but those moments have been few. My goal has always been to leave as many doors of opportunity open for as long as possible for each child, knowing that each would have doors that close as time goes on.
But if I am honest, part of me wants to live vicariously through my children. If I do, I get to live a better, more well-informed life than I led the first time, and my children get all the benefits of my wisdom. What could be better? Isn’t that helping our children to live without making so many mistakes? Isn’t that a good thing? Why would I want my children to struggle, especially with some of the same things I struggled with?
Let’s ponder that. Think of the caterpillar that begins the long, arduous work of creating its cocoon in preparation of becoming something amazing. It has to climb up somewhere safe with the ability for the cocoon silk to attach to something. There are obstacles in the process.
There is pain in the birthing of the butterfly. But the butterfly has to go through that pain and those obstacles to become what God has intended. If we reach our hands in and “help” the butterfly come out of the cocoon, we strip it of the time it takes for the wings to dry out to prepare for flight.
Do you see the connection?
If we reach our hands into our children’s lives to help them avoid pain and obstacles, they are stripped of the tenacity and perseverance they need to be what God intended. We harm their ability for flight.
There are some easy ways to practice this, parents. Maybe it means we don’t step in too quickly with that teacher, to protect your child. Instead, allow your children to work some things out on their own. Maybe let them face the consequences of poor choices so they can remember those for the next time they have to make a decision.
Back to the graduation ceremony, I made an appointment in June for my son’s senior portraits to be made. I ordered his cap and gown in November. And I waited for the next step. I reminded him of his senior meetings. I quizzed him on the information. I sent him the reminder of when to pick up his cap and gown. When it arrived, I opened up the package and shed a few tears. Then I remembered his face at each discussion of his graduation.
“But he would miss walking across the stage,” I kept telling myself. God grabbed my heart and finally … I listened. I have already walked across the stage to mark the end of my high school career. Why did I want this for him so much?
I finally asked my son what he thought about not walking in his graduation. He sat up. Would future him wish that past him would have gone through with it? He pondered and then beamed. His answer was, “No. I would rather have a family dinner during that time. My two best friends are not going to be there anyway. Mom, I really would like to NOT walk across the stage.”
I saw a glimpse of the man he is becoming. He has thoughts and opinions of his own. He knows what he wants. Is he still going to make mistakes? Absolutely! Are we still there to help when needed? A resounding YES! But, for now, he has taken a step in the right direction, trying to figure out the life God has for HIM. He is preparing to fly. And I am living the life God has for ME, and I need to watch from the sidelines and cheer him on. God has this and has my son just as much as He has me.
I will make this mistake again, but with each time, I am hopefully seeing my overstepping a bit sooner. We are all learning in the process called parenting. Keep calm and parent on, my friend.