This past weekend, Jason and I attended a beautiful wedding. Many of the guests were good friends from our Toronto days. It was great to catch up and see how old we’re getting. Life changes so fast. In four short years, we’ve gone from partying to parenting – quite a drastic shift.
A theme emerged over the course of multiple conversations and glasses of wine. It seems that a lot of young couples our age have trouble with their parents, whether it’s unwelcome interference in their now-adult lives, or clashing personalities, or disagreement about whom the child has chosen to marry, or how grandchildren are being raised. The list goes on and on.
Parents react in all sorts of ways. Some have refused to attend their kid’s wedding; others won’t take help with grandchildren; some swear and speak harshly to their grown-up kids; others create tension by refusing to speak at all. I was left thinking, “What’s with these parents?!” The more people I talk to, the more I realize that significant family strife is more common than I ever imagined.
My mind went back to a stilted conversation I had in Spanish with a Mayan shaman/chiropractor at a centre for healing and alternative medicine near Cancun last month. Before beginning my treatment (which was part of the Maya Kaan tour that I was covering for TreeHugger), he asked what the ‘source of my pain’ was. The question baffled me, but because there was nothing physical bothering me, I went out on a limb, replying “emotional” and telling him about my miscarriage. It turned out to be a good thing. He spoke to me at length (and I even wept), but this really stuck with me:
“We don’t own our children. They are only on loan to us, and can be taken back whenever they’re needed. You must realize what a privilege it is to have them for the time that you do.”
Whether it’s spirits, God, or the way of the universe that might take them back, I keep thinking about his words. It’s so easy for us parents to develop a sense of entitlement toward our children, an attitude of expectation that kids will grow into the people we picture them as and want them to be. And yet, it never really happens that way. Our children are their own beings, wholly independent from us, with their own personalities and interests and dreams. How terribly selfish it is for parents to assume their children will follow a pre-determined path that pleases the parent.
I must never forget this as my little boys grow older. I must remind myself to use these fleeting years wisely, for this is the brief time in their lives that I do have a real influence over them, and to encourage them in paths that will ultimately make them happy and me proud. But, most importantly, I want to reinforce in these early years (and always) the fact that I’ll love them no matter what they do, who they marry, and how they choose to live their lives. Because I’m their mother – one of only two parents in the whole world – and just because I’ve given them life doesn’t mean I can determine who they become.