“…it is our attachment to the thoughts we have of who we are that may be the impediment to living life fully, and a stubborn obstacle to any realization of who and what we actually are, and of what is important, and possible.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Giving up pride of place as a parent is a process.* This lesson in detachment at first felt wrong, perhaps because I misconstrued the meaning of detachment. I related it to being uncaring rather than to loving objectively.
Maybe women (especially) are socialized to feel responsible for emotional support our entire lives. Our feelings that we are tied by strong and silken threads to our children are authentic. And then many of us accept the challenge to nurture these connections in ways that become unwieldy as the years roll on.
I come from a family of fixers. The gene was passed from my father, nurtured by both of my parents and firmly rooted. I was raised to believe that my job was to serve. My parents were proud of my intelligence. They tolerated and allowed my explorations into proscribed activities. And they praised my aptitude for caring and tending. Not surprisingly I put the most energy into that which earned me the greatest approbation.
I know from experience and example that it is a hard act to give up.
I was always confident of my father’s profound faith and yet he clung to life with his fingernails and toenails. I joked about the family “FOMS” (Fear of Missing Something) that reinforced his will to stay alive. I’ve always believed that his resistance to death had not much to do with fear of dying and everything to do with his fear of leaving his vast pool of descendants to swim without his guidance. He was a strong lifeline to many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and he strengthened that lifeline as he aged. In his eighties he learned to use a computer and kept a cell phone with him in order to be accessible.
And still, when he died, life went on without him.
I was slow to recognize my reflection in his mirror. The process of letting go has been gradual, with me prying each imaginary clutching finger from the lives of my children as I increasingly explore my own life as an individual. I acknowledge the body of my early work as having had great value. I can look at any one of my children and see that they stand in place with wisdom and grace.
That part of my life is done.
Instead of intervening in every health issue, parenting problem, relationship spat and career move, I can let each of them and their partners know how happy I am that they are there for each other and ready to navigate their way through the pitfalls. And rather than offering every cure I have ever personally tried or found on the internet (whether it worked or not), I try to listen to their chosen protocol and wait to be asked about my own ideas or experience.
It is still a learning process for me.
But I know that the best I can do for my children is to listen if they want to talk. I am available to share my life experience if they want input. I am developing more and more confidence in the new order in which I negotiate the hand-off and acknowledge that I am one of the wisdom-keepers of our family and but that my real job is to let them be capable.
It is to acknowledge their own good thoughts and, if necessary, to shore up their confidence in their own intuition. It is to set an example in recognizing that the children they have raised will be perfectly capable of carrying on the tradition of a thoughtful and purposeful life built to each one’s own blueprint.
My early job was to make sure there was oil in the torch. I have paid attention. I have learned. I cannot shirk the duty or ignore the responsibility of making everything available to the next generations. But now my job is to stay in the background and make way for them to add to the wisdom bank.
*If I feel I have done it well, it is comforting to rest on the laurels which belong to my children. In the ways I feel I have failed, I foster the illusion that I can fix it retrospectively.