Over time, I’ve become less … absolute in my certainty that I’ll hold the same opinion or viewpoint about anything. Instead, I’ve adopted a more “never say never” approach to life. About lots of things. Parenting is a good example, but it can apply to many aspects of life.
Most rules or belief systems that I was convinced I’d follow — as a parent — have been loosened or relinquished long since. And often, though not always, I have gained more by giving up a preconceived viewpoint in favor of something that makes more sense in the immediate reality.
Some guidelines we adjusted when our daughters were really little. Acceptable food types: sugar, salt or starch, for instance (less not more). Chemical ingredients or lack of them. Staying up late. Books versus television. Video games. Computers in general. Certain kinds of toys (things that can be “aimed” at other people, certain sorts of dolls, too much Disney of any kind).
Other standards were compromised over time, perhaps out of necessity as a form of negotiation or in response to a child’s specific personality and needs. Along the way, there are big battles and little battles, and sometimes you have to pick ’em.
We either gave up ground — or held the line — on all kinds of issues. Walking alone to school. Pets. Missing class. Homework. Extracurricular activities. Earning allowances. Healthy meal choices. Keeping bedrooms clean. Friends. Hair length. Clothing choices. Using perfume. Applying makeup. Texting. Internet access.
Many of these standards changed, as our daughters grew up. They simply stopped being our decisions to make. Either morally or legally, these choices became their territory.
This exercise was part of allowing the girls to mature (as long as they were able); taking responsibility along with enjoying the the benefits of each new freedom. Practice before lessons. Attend class. Mark themselves in some permanent way: piercing or tattoo. Social circles. Boys. Self-care and coping techniques. Alcohol. Nicotine. Partying. How to have fun. Obeying the law. Traveling. Sex. Love. Living at home. Living somewhere else. Laundry. Work places. Cars. Cell phones. Health decisions. College. Career goals. Saving or spending money. Voting.
Some compromises came about due to natural developmental cycles that happen inside any family: the tension between freedom and responsibility. Others took place due to acute circumstances, and trying to achieve the best possible outcome in bad situations.
Sometimes, one of the girls would take a risk and then return to safety. Sometimes, she would immediately exercise sound judgment, and I’d smile, relieved and proud. Other times, one or the other would choose in a way that made me cringe or look away and hold my breath.
You, too, have made your own compromises, I’m sure. And I can’t be inside your family or heart, to know what you give away in order to gain something else. We all have priorities, but they may shift due to circumstances that we just couldn’t imagine beforehand.
I’ve certainly learned that I cannot always predict which “battles” are the big or little ones. Nor which decisions I will make. What decisions I will relinquish to my child.
Lately, with my living daughter Sarah, this has been a positive experience. As I have given up control and stepped back — even when I feel like I’m abdicating my parental responsibilities by agreeing to certain freedoms — that decision will set my daughter loose. She will fly … and come home again. Proving herself within that liberty.
Sometimes it’s easy. It make sense. It feels right.
Other times, I agree and let go: reluctantly, grudgingly, uneasily, warily. Deep breaths, unclench hands and jaws, focus on something else. Try to stay relaxed enough to support and allow adulthood. Mean it, when I say, “Okay, go ahead, give that a try.”
If a mistake is coming, how will she learn, if she doesn’t take the risk? I cannot protect her anymore. She is an adult in so many ways. With adult consequences to go with actions. And adult opportunities unfolding in front of her: travel, college, career, love, friends, independence.
I cannot always forecast how she will choose, when given the chance. But more and more, as she matures, her choices have been ones that cause me to pause, take a second look, inhale and whisper to myself … “So this is the woman you are becoming!”
Your loved ones might surprise you. By turns, my children have worried, uplifted, scared, calmed, startled, engaged, enraged and inspired me!