“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them”. Thomas Merton
In our parenting one of the most difficult things is to let our children be themselves. We can feel that our duty as parents is to raise a model child. Someone with good manners who participates happily in school, sporting and extracurricular activities, who has plenty of friends, and who eats and sleeps well.
Unfortunately children are not wired that way. They are immature, noisy, boisterous, clumsy, shy, awkward, demanding and often irritating. They wake up too early, they are sick in the night, they are capricious in their refusal of our requests. They push us to our limits and beyond.
Yet most of us love our children dearly. We long for them to have the opportunities that we have lacked and to succeed where we have failed. We want the best for them and we want them to avoid the pain that we have suffered. Things like feeling excluded from the cool gang, being shown up in the classroom, being rejected in love, having to work too hard for too little money.
Alongside that, how closely we identify our own success with the success of our children. If they don’t do well we take the blame. We think it is our fault. We think we have failed.
As our children grow and begin to make choices for themselves, we can be tempted to try and shape them into what we want. We are tempted to think that we know best for them. We are tempted to ensure that they follow the path that we think wisest.
Is it any wonder that, with the wisdom of our years, we seek to guide them in ways that will enhance their experience of life?
Is it any wonder that we seek to protect our children from the suffering of unwise decisions?
Of course, as loving parents, we have a duty to care and guide them.
However, problems can arise from our motivation. We can fear the suffering that both our children and ourselves will endure if they make a mistake. In this fear we cling tightly to what we want for them and we can become tightly controlling. Rather than listening to them and encouraging their growth we try to force them in the direction that we would choose.
The tragedy of this is for our children. Either, they comply with what we want and they never learn to express themselves to the full potential of their uniqueness; or they rebel in their desire to become their true selves.
And this is a tragedy for us too. Either, we do not see that of which our children are truly capable; or in our disappointment we do not recognise that this stranger is our own. We are separated from the person in whom we could rejoice.
It is hard for parents to see their children make mistakes and getting hurt. Yet it is in the very process of making mistakes that children are learning and growing and in protecting them from mistakes we stunt their growth. In order to release them into being unique people who are fulfilling their potential we have to learn to let go of our need for them to be perfect and to have a perfect life.
In order to do this it helps to let go of our own needs for perfection and to attend to our own humanity. If we can recognise that life, and people, are imperfect it helps us.
It helps us to recognize that life does involve suffering and our task is not to avoid pain and discomfort but to use situations as opportunities for growth. It changes our focus from one of controlling outcomes to one of preparing ourselves and our children to meet life’s challenges. It is an attitude of openness and letting go of expectations. In doing so, by beginning to love our children as they are, we receive the joy of seeing their true beauty emerge.
I talk about both letting go of the past and our hopes for the future in my video this week. For regular delivery of my blog to your inbox, please sign up for emails.
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