Lessons Learned: On Standing Back

Today's Lessons Learned essay (see submission guidelines here) on standing back comes via Kim Kalicky, author of Mothers Fulfilled and Away at a Camp in Maine. Thanks so much for sharing this essay, Kim!

The hardest thing we'll ever have to do as parents is stand back and let our children be who they are and who they are meant to be...especially if it happens not to be what we expected or hoped.

Oh, we thought when they were babies, toddlers, and middle schoolers that the physical aspects of clothing, feeding, and sheltering them was taxing and exhausting (albeit extremely joyful and enlightening), but that was just physical. To me, dealing with the physical is always easier than dealing with emotional.

It's a challenging balancing act coaching, leading, and teaching children how to be giving, thoughtful, kind, and productive citizens of the world -- yet competitive enough to survive in work and play on the long trajectory thorugh childhood and adolescence and then into college (if they choose to attend) and the work world.

So when have we arrived?  When do we step back, let go, glide, and hope the coaching, leading, and teaching has met some success?

I told my son at his 18th birthday that I thought it was time for me to stop giving him advice. His eyebrows rose slightly and his eyes opened a little wider in laughing question. I said I wasn't clear if it was 18 or maybe 22, after college...I wasn't quite sure. He said I'd never stop giving him advice -- to date, every day of his life had been a moral lesson. (Every day? I'm sorry!)

I decided it was probably 18, because at that point an adult's advice to an adult child becomes criticism, no longer advice. His character was formed by middle school; by 18, at his core, he was who he was meant to be. I said, rest assured, I'd always have advice (and a quote or two or moral lesson) and opinions, but I'd keep them to myself unless asked. If he wanted my advice, I was always there for him, but I needed, as surely as the sun rises each morning, to respect him and his decisions for who he was and love him for that and only that.

Allowing children to be their own people, apart from us, is the ultimate quest and the hardest part of the parenting journey. Understanding they are not "ours," but totally their own beings on their own journeys takes introspection to arrive at acceptance. We've just had the honor and privilege of coaching, leading, and teaching them on their quest...and standing back when they see for themselves who they are and what they want in this life.

Do you want to submit a Lessons Learned essay? See submission guidelines here.

Image credit: Drawing by Kim Kalicky's son, who is a student at Savannah College of Art & Design for game design/computer animation.

FamilyChristine KohComment