As a mother to three boys, I’ve always envisioned sending three mature, independent, strong, and whole young men out into the world, one-by-one as they turn 18, to be all they can be. I’m not quite sure how I would define whole other than complete and not lacking. Perfection, really. My vision is slowly crumbling as my beautiful sons get older.
I find myself repeating instructions that I’ve given them from the time they were toddlers.
“Say please and excuse me.”
“Don’t sass your mother!”
“Please clean up your mess.”
“Think before you speak.”
…and these are just the basics. Conversations and reprimands go countless and mind-boggling directions as I attempt to wrap my mind around their current struggles, help them work through mistakes, redirect their wanderings, help them recognize the gaps in their reasoning, etc. This is what a parent should do. And the closer they get to age 18, the more hurried my heart feels to shape them more and more when the reality is that they are becoming their own people.
I will not be sending them out into the world “complete”. The task is simply impossible on any and every level.
I think about Adam and Eve. God created them and they lacked nothing. God looked at all of creation and saw that it was very good. The tricky part about this so-called “very good” is that it includes free will and dag-nabbit, if Eve hadn’t chosen to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil I would’ve. Who am I to think that I wouldn’t?
Eve had a choice. Choosing was the gift. Choosing poorly came with a curse. Choosing wisely comes with a blessing. We see the effects of her choice as well as other people’s choices all around us, every day.
Our kids have choices. They were not only given gifts of individuality, personality, creativity, intelligence and so forth but God gave them the gift of choice. As a parent, this gift of theirs feels more like a curse to me. As a parent, I am given the responsibility of providing consequences, good and bad, for their choices. Ugh.
As they get closer to an age of independence, natural consequences come into play more and more. They choose how to engage with their peers at school, how to act in the workplace, how they treat each other when I’m not looking, etc. Granted, my role in parenting is not over when they turn 18 – or ever- but they have to learn on their own more and more.
It’s in this land – the No Man’s Land of parenting- where you allow your kids the freedom to make their own mistakes – that I find the most discomfort. We find ourselves in this land when our kids are young and we watch them on the playground with other kids. As they mature bit-by-bit, we watch to see how they’ll engage with others after they’ve been pushed, hit, or their toy has been taken away. We intervene when necessary.
No Man’s Land feels more vast as each year goes by. We continue to influence and shape our kids’ hearts and minds – providing structure, character lessons, good and bad consequences, and learning opportunities but ultimately many of these lessons won’t work themselves out under our own supervision. No Man’s Land requires us to trust the lessons we’ve taught and bend our knees in prayer. We know they’re making mistakes constantly – we just pray that they aren’t making the BIG mistakes that could cost a life, an education, a close friend or later in life a marriage or career.
As our kids bounce around in teenage-hood, the bigger the consequences may seem, the greater the temptation becomes for parents hover (helicopter) and control instead of releasing, blessing, and praying.
Because we all know, gosh darnit, that our kids are human- just like us. Our kids’ hearts will break – just like ours’. Our kids will know sorrow, loss, depression, devastation, and will have to struggle to breathe when they feel like they are drowning. We won’t be able to rescue them. The majority of the time these hardships will be a result of poorly using the gift they possess – the gift of choice. The other times of hardship… we need to be near, loving, and safe.
They get to choose how they will view hardships and celebrations in life. They get to choose if they allow their heart to feel entitled to the world or victimized by the world versus humbled by opportunities, challenged to grow, or determined to change their worlds as a result of their own pain, loss, grief, or burdens.
Fortunately, as parents, we can also rest in the fact that they will make some good choices and will have opportunities to celebrate, share, encourage, bring joy, speak life, and share love with others.
For me, I should feel a great relief in knowing that I’m doing my best and even that will never be good enough. I need to take a deep breath and let myself off the hook a bit. I’m a flawed and broken person just like every other person. We can’t expect perfection from our kids. Perfection can never be the result of imperfection. Perfection doesn’t exist on this side of Heaven anyway. I can’t overlook the gift of choice and it’s presence in my boys’ lives. And I certainly can’t own their choices.
As a mom, my biggest struggle with the ‘choice, No Man’s Land, growing up’ salad is not worrying about how each of my boys’ choices reflect on me. I will continue to mother my boys whether directly through action and deed or indirectly through prayer for the rest of their lives but their choices aren’t my choices. They have to choose poorly and learn or choose wisely and be blessed. What others want to think is their choice.
I am me. They are they.