Being a parent is a difficult job. There is this sense that your child’s happiness is completely dependent on you. Dare I say chained to you. So if Jimmy gets an F on his book report, you must pick up the pieces and find a way for Jimmy to succeed. I can remember one of the first girls, OK maybe the first five girls to “date” my son, ended the relationship by text. The relationship may have lasted just some 36 hours but I was devastated that they had the audacity to break up with my son via a text. Really? How heartless. That’s my hugga bear you just broke up with. I can look back now and see it was futile to get wrapped in the ups and downs of adolescent heartbreak. The secret is to be unchained from the outcome and present in the moment.
I coach several folks who are parents as well. I see the struggle of trying to reconcile their own happiness with the happiness of their children. It’s natural for parents to want to see their children succeed. But chasing that happiness for them can be detrimental. All you really have is your own experience. And your children have theirs. When they were in a car seat or crib, you had a lot of control over their happiness. You could change their diaper, grab a bottle or entertain them with a rattle. Once they head off to school you become less and less able to dictate their happiness and they become more and more in charge of their own fate.
So here are the lessons I’ve learned:
• Normalize. There is comfort in knowing that whatever you are going through, that practically everyone else has been there. Normalizing is a technique as a coach to find out if in the client’s heart they realize that what they are going through is normal. So whether it’s telling a client “isn’t it normal to want your son’s wedding to be perfect” or tell my daughter “isn’t it normal to want a committed relationship?” This is coaching 101. Everyone thinks their thoughts are unique to them. But we all suffer from our thoughts. Having a client realize on their own that what they are thinking is normal can lower the anxiety level. Be sure to normalize your own and others thoughts.
• Separate. I had a client recently who has been working hard to separate herself from the drama that is planning a wedding for her son. If you haven’t been through the experience, the wedding is all about the bride. Being the mother of the groom can be very difficult. When it comes to a decision, the bride and her mother get to win. No matter what. My client has made great strides in letting the wedding be about them and not her. She has been able to look at it from a different angle and through a different lens. She is just an observer and the result has been much less strife. She’s been open to whatever decision comes along. As she said after the wedding, “Because I did not become part of the “drama”, the wedding experience was absolutely amazing! I enjoyed every single part of it. Practically, stress free. Learning to take yourself out of the equation when possible makes life much easier. “Separate yourself from the drama.
• Don’t buffer. I have another client who feels she has to be the buffer between her children and her husband. So if her daughter doesn’t sign up for the class in time, my client feels like she needs to buffer her husband from the information. I have lived this myself. I felt as though I had to make sure any negative information with my kids was properly couched to my spouse; and that the best light was shone on the issue at hand. It’s exhausting. I had to realize that my husband was a big boy and could handle the disappointment. I am not responsible for his happiness or his interpretation either. Allow others to speak for themselves; don’t buffer.
• Don’t attach. The outcome is not attached to you. If my client’s son’s wedding is fantastic or if the bride leaves her son at the altar (ala The Graduate), it is not a reflection on the mother of the groom. As she said to me in our last session before the wedding, “I just want to be present and enjoy the moment”. She’s not attached to the outcome. She is just there to experience it and support this new beginning.
• Let go. In the last few years I have really worked on letting go. I’ve seen my son and daughter decide on colleges, careers and love interests. I’ve seen my kids make decisions that I wouldn’t have. Piercings, hair styles and music preferences. I have let go of my judge and sent the judge on a mission of silence. As my client with the groom said, “And in regards to letting go, it is difficult, but when you do let go, the burden is lighter-you still worry, and of course pray for their safety, but the rest is out of your control. And, yes, it is much easier said than done.” What they do, is what they do. I hope nothing is life threatening but when your child is over 18 there really isn’t much you can do to change the course of their life. Let go.
I’m not saying it’s easy but I know that their happiness is their responsibility and my happiness is mine. Let them get there on their own path and don’t feel like you have to run ahead with a machete clearing the way. What have learned from being a parent?