Giving My Children Custody of Their Own Lives

One afternoon, when my youngest daughter, then age 21, was in a talkative mood, she began sharing details of her life with me, a stream of conscience that ran from what she’d done over the weekend and trailing into future plans she might expand on that in her mind were sound and logical.

I was still in the reactive state otherwise known as—the mother of a teenage son and two young adult daughters, meaning that I was still into preventative parenting, still curbing the war. I began giving my daughter the low down on how I felt about what she’d just told me.

We almost began a heated argument, and we would have except that she said. “Stop it Mom, you have to be willing to listen to my ideas without always giving me advice.”

I took a deep breath, and all at once realized that no matter how much I wanted to guide her and protect her from ever having to experience any of the dangers that exist in adult life as she walked towards independence, I couldn’t.

“OK,” I said, “I guess it’s time for me to give you to yourself. “ She rolled her eyes and replied, “Yes, you’d better, because I have friends whose parents refuse to do it, and their kids won’t talk about everything the way I do; they just tell their parents what they think they want to hear.”

Then without missing a beat she continued on talking, telling me things. At one point I slipped back into advice giving, and she said. “Mom, stop it. Because, when you have too many opinions about my life you create a wall between us, and you’ve just put up another brick.”That day we coined the family joke about the “Wall” and whenever I become overly involved in her life, it reminds me to stop.

Today my daughters are grown, and have been for many years. They lead independent lives. Yet those last few years when they were still living with me and had begun to reach young adulthood, like most parents I began to take inventory of all the things I forgot to teach them. I often found there was something I wanted to say that I didn’t quite get to say while they were growing up. Because I wanted my kids to fare better than I did and to be able to avoid some of the mistakes I made.

But my children can’t learn from my mistakes. They have to make their own mistakes. It’s important for them to make a few mistakes. “So they can grow to be more courageous in facing themselves and their lives, more confident of what they want to do, and more efficient in carrying through their aims. But, above all so they will become more aware.” —Anne Morrow Lindbergh

In quiet moments when I doubt my children have learned all that I’m capable of teaching them, just when a tiny repeat lecture, or a warning begins to slip from my mouth. I remind myself to stop, take a deep breath and allow them to walk forward into adult lives of their own making.

They say that the oldest child has the worst of it in most families, suffering from all the mistakes his or her parents don’t have enough experience to avoid. It struck me in later years when the mission was completed, that my oldest daughter had two rookie mothers to contend with; the mom she had for the first ten years of her life in Korea, and then she had to start out all over again with me.

You’ve heard the term that doctors practice medicine. I like to think of parents as practicing parenting. Nobody has it figured out. But the other day I came across the best quote. When you come to the edge of all you’ve known and are about to step into the darkness, one of two things will happen. Either there will be something solid for you to stand on or you will be taught to fly.

Author’s Note: This story was first presented as a session introduction at the 2004 KAAN Conference and it was reprinted under the title Another Brick In The Wall, as a parent guide to accompany the book Pieces of Me: Who Do You Want To Be published by EMK Press and it was reprinted in 2015 in Adoption Today.

© 2004 Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.
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