My adult life has provided me several hard lessons. As a parent now myself, I've been especially moved in my view of what parenthood means and, maybe, what it ought to mean. My vocabulary doesn't usually include words like "should" or "shouldn't," because I believe in the power of those words. I believe there is no "right" way to do life, only what works best for each of us and what doesn't. But I think sometimes it's important to have the strength to expect more from ourselves and from those in our inner circles. When we witness the crumbling of our loved ones' spirit it becomes our responsibility to step in and prevent their total destruction. There's little else more tragic in this world than the light being snuffed out of those glowing the brightest.
When we choose to become parents, that commitment is for life. Make no mistake, no matter how we enter parenthood, it is absolutely a decision. That means when our children reach adulthood, we are still their parents. When our children stumble and make mistakes that we interpret as a personal reflection, we are still their parents. When they try on independence and hurt us, we are still their parents. When they spend time apart from us, we are still their parents. When they leave us forever, we are still their parents.
Here's what parenting doesn't mean:
It doesn't mean holding grudges against our kids.
When we show these little (even grown) people that we keep score against them, it creates an environment where mistakes and growing pains are not acceptable. It tells them that we reject the behavior that may be challenging to us, even though that behavior is perfectly healthy self development. It makes our kids second guess themselves where they should be learning. It makes them assign words like "bad," and "wrong," and "not good enough," and worse. Those sentiments stay with a person especially when they are adopted so early on. This is extremely damaging to a developing sense of self.
It doesn't mean punishing our kids with passive aggressiveness.
Intentionally taking stabs at our kids for any reason is immature and irresponsible. This can appear subtle, but I will tell you that our kids feel it. This could look like "forgetting" to include them in major familial events, or making snide remarks in public venues, or perhaps asking them to take photos of the family without inviting them to appear in those photos. All of these I have seen firsthand. All of these I have watched slowly erode the recipient into a dark pit of self doubt that had nowhere to go but down.
It doesn't mean manipulating our kids to get what we want.
People, this is abusive. We are in a position of trust and, to some extent, power. It is imperative we take this position as seriously as is demanded. Our children use us as the safe space to make mistakes and try on everything they may eventually leave behind. That means they will do things that we don't approve of, or will see coming, or even challenge how we see them as humans. But this is their job. Our job is to hold that space for them. That's what we've agreed to, you see. That's our solemn oath as parents. And yet, I see many of us using our wisdom to wield dangerous tactics that absolutely damage our children's sense of self, self worth, and inner dialogue. Please don't think that just because you have years and experience behind you that your kids don't understand, at least to some degree. Kids are incredibly intuitive. If they don't understand on an immediate level, they still absorb the sentiments deep into their cells.
Manipulation is a very dark path to walk, friends. You may feel that you are teaching or imparting hard lessons, but there is nothing to be gained. What you're doing is withholding closeness (love), creating boundaries that manifest into mistrust, close communication lines, and eventually make yourself unattainable to your kids. We must be intentional with our language. Saying, "I don't care," when we mean, "I understand if you can't attend," speaks volumes to our children. Guilt trips are manipulation's slightly less impressive sisters. Please stop doing this. Instead, say what you mean. Mean what you say. Staying aligned is the best way to foster beautiful, raw, real relationships with the incredible little people we are raising.
It doesn't mean we stop parenting when our kids become parents themselves.
Many times, this is when our children need us the most. Don't stop being involved even when they're busy or begin to stray. Don't stop showing up even when our kids forget how to be close to us. Don't stop asking even when we get that wonderful eye roll and hough. Don't stop holding that sacred space for them to grow, because growth never ceases. Just don't stop. Be there. Be available, unrelenting, supportive, loving, understanding. Be a resource, a shoulder, an afternoon escape. Be a part.
With hope and love. L.