This winter holiday as I sat with my dear sister talking about the "joy" of parenting teen-age boys, I had one of those revelations that although welcome and enlightening, I kick myself for not having understood before:
"The surest way to make life hard for your children, is to make it too easy for them."
I've had this phrase from Betsy Brown Braun on a bright piece of paper hanging in my kitchen for 5 years, but it was not until that talk with my sister that I grasped the real meaning of Betsy's words.
During 2012, my family had a fair share of challenges: my dad passed away unexpectedly in September, my beloved stepdad passed away 8 months before that, my mom felt alone like never before, my brother got divorced and found himself with 3 precious young children to raise alone, and lastly, my sister and her family had to relocate from a beach paradise to an industrious urban area because of business reasons.
That December afternoon my sister and I were chatting about what we believe is the strength of our spirits, and that we are thankful to feel confident when confronted with adversity and change. We talked about how each one of the difficult moments in our lives, from the alienation of being children of divorce parents in a very conservative society, living then with a stereotypical stepmother, and later on being young professional women in a man's world, gave us the confidence that we can deal with basically everything. It made us realize we could do anything, and that in the end, there is nothing to loose as long as we don't loose ourselves.
It was then, as we feasted in self-ingratiation, when it hit me: what am I doing to my kids!
Until that late December afternoon, I had worked very hard to ‘shelter' my two sons from most of those 2012 hardships. I minimized the importance of the events as much as I could by hiding my sorrow, and trivializing the changes brought to our lives by them. Through these hard moments (and all through their lives!) I worked hard to avoid their exposure to feelings of loss, death, change. And I was convinced I was doing the best for them.
If the reason for my confidence, strength, and power came from going through hardships without loosing myself, was I then taking away from them that possibility every time I've sheltered them from rejection and failure? Had I actually prevented them from acquiring confidence and strength on their own? And just as I was getting square with that, I also realized that in the short history of their lives, their major breakthroughs and emotional growth spurs had come after heartbreak, a lost bid, or a disappointment.
How could I have robbed my kids from such empowering opportunities and growth!
Since that Aha! Moment almost 2 months ago, I have focused in allowing my kids as much freedom as I can. I will not lie to you, it has not been easy. Although I know this freedom will help them to deal with the daily disappointments and big decisions life naturally brings, this has been the hardest exercise on letting go for me. I keep myself going, grabbing strength from the thought that is not the failures we need to protect our children from, but from the mere fear of that failure, and the myopic view that failure and most pain are anything but tools for a better, more healthy way of dealing with this life . That I am bursting the bubble my kids have been living in, and it is the best thing I can do for them.
Now dear Betsy, could your next book be about what a parent is to do to deal with the pain of seeing a child fail, heart-broken and disappointed? I surely hope you have some new wisdom for me there too!