Not everyone is meant to charge through the world carrying a spear. From Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, City of Girls
I have three terrific children and they are incredibly different from each other. They’re like me in some ways, but then they possess these other qualities I seriously can’t relate to. Sure, I “get” them as they are, yet still, sometimes the nurture vs. nature stuff boggles my mind.
My oldest, a daughter, has always led with her chin. She even has a purposeful stride that her Papa often remarked on. She’s my daughter who “carries a spear” which makes her a bit like me. But I didn’t start my life out that way (another story for another day).
My second daughter and my youngest, the only boy, both approach life in more careful ways. Their caution as children irritated me to no end. It seemed so extreme. Why couldn’t they advocate for themselves? Why did they hang back and let things happen?
I didn’t get it. I pushed and prodded to no avail. If school was going to go perfectly (and in my mind, it had to), then I was going to have to insert myself.
So, of course, I became a “helicopter mom!”
Imagine a child holding onto your forearm saying, “No, Mom, please don’t say anything. It’s okay. Really, I’m fine with it.” Yup, that’s one of my younger ones through elementary school and into their high school years.
My joke was always, “If you’re not embarrassed, I’m not doing my job right!” They never found that joke terribly funny for some reason. <smirk> Admittedly, I hung back sometimes too when I agreed something wasn’t worth pursuing on their behalf.
I wanted each of my children to carry a spear. Because of how I was raised, I thought spear-carrying was the only way to get what you wanted or get where you needed to be. In other words, deadly weapons could be essential to a productive life.
I’ve learned a few things about myself in the past five years and my hovering, helicoptering days are over. Sure, the tip of my tongue gets sore from biting it, but the pain is worth it. Maintaining healthy relationships with adult children is so important.
Strong boundaries matter.
A ladies’ book group I once belonged to studied the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How To Say No To Take Control of Your Life. This study took me on a journey into my own past and how I’d allowed people to violate the boundaries of my adulthood. I have co-dependent tendencies and that long-established pattern led me to construct unhealthy boundaries in so many relationships. Since learning this, I’ve been determined to hang back and not cross the boundary between parent and adult child.
Thankfully, my kids are healthy both emotionally and intellectually. Now that they’re adults and actually adulting, I’m super proud of them. And…they joke about my occasionally overbearing behavior “in the old days” when they were tots. The tables are turned and they pick on me. Affectionately, it seems.
Recently, one of my children complained about work and I said, “I don’t want to get into your business, but would you like some advice?” I got a “yes” and I had the privilege of sharing a list of options to potentially solve the problem. And…problem is solved! That adult child is in a better place at work now.
We want our kids to be happy. That’s all. But they have to live with the consequences of their choices. We can’t bail them out at every turn. We can’t expect them to do things exactly how we’d do them or did them. When they’re young, parents have to set limits and help them problem-solve. It’s our job.
We must do the parenting stuff that prepares our kids to be productive adults. Their future may require the carrying of a spear. But perhaps that won’t be necessary. In this regard, my niggling irritation with childish reticence was wasted energy. Ultimately, because of me or in spite of me, they figured out how to “adult.”
I’m just happy (and relieved) that they want to spend time with me. Apparently, I didn’t screw up totally. Hallelujah!