The day I turned 18, I was nursing three-week-old twin boys. For the next seven years, I packed a whole bunch of so-called “life” into my life. I’ve spent the past eleven years trying to fix the mess I made of everything.
When I came back home in 2001 at the age of 24, I came back with a chip on my shoulder and blame for everyone but me. I had a failed marriage, a 3-year-old and a baby with me. At that time, I was willing to push everything off on my parents.
It’s been a long road; I’ve fought addiction, depression, anger and frustration. At the end of the road is the “me” I am today, realizing that my parents are so much smarter than I am.
If I’d Only…
There have been several times over the past few years that my dad has said, “If I’d only done this instead of that, maybe your life wouldn’t have gone so badly.” I know, as I write this, that there are several parents out there thinking the same thing about their grown children.
I feel for you. It’s not easy and often painful. You’re watching your now adult children do stupid things – or even just things you don’t agree with. From experience, you know some of the choices they’re making aren’t the best. You know the consequences for some of those choices are going to hurt. –And you think, “Maybe if I’d taught them better…” or “If I’d only…” or “Where did I go wrong that they…”
There’s a Point Where You Stop Taking Blame
The last time my dad said an “if only”, I told him – as an adult and daughter – what I’m going to tell you. There is a point where you are no longer responsible for your child’s actions.
I grew up in a Christian household. It was a loving household, where I knew what was expected of me and I knew the rules. I knew if I took a drawing to dad, he’d tell me what was wrong with it, and how to make it better. If I took a drawing to mom, she’d love it and tell me it was the best I’d ever done. I knew who to go to, depending on which response I most wanted hear.
My dad taught me how to play chess and how to draw, among other things. My mom and I spent hours in the kitchen making bread from scratch some Sundays, with the sun streaming in the window. There was never a time where I wondered if they loved me. They instilled a strong sense of family and a powerful urge to learn that has never gone away. As much as anyone can, I grew up confident, happy and healthy.
By the time I was 16, though, I’d grown up (at least in my head). Like most teenagers, I thought I was an adult, and that I knew more than my parents. I went my own way and, quite frankly, made a mess of things.
Is there anything my parents really could have done differently to change things? I don’t think so. They did everything they knew how to do. They gave me the foundations of right vs. wrong among all the other gifts and lessons.
We All Have a Choice
Not everyone grows up the way I did; I realize that. Some had happier childhoods, some had darker childhoods – but there’s a point where we become responsible for our own actions. I can say that, and I’ll add “No matter what kind of childhood you had.”
I have met several people over the years who’ve lived lives completely on the opposite spectrum of mine. Dark childhoods full of pain, fear and despair. Some of these people have grown up to commit the same atrocities they went through. Most, however, have looked at what they went through and said, “I will not be like this.”
One of them, a dear friend of mine, is the most wonderful mother I’ve ever known. She is, because she’s experienced what a bad mother is and chose to be better than what she’d been shown. She’s one of the people I look at and say, “I want to be that kind of mom.”
These shining examples have proven, at least to me, that everyone has a choice. These people chose to be different than what they were taught. If they, living the lives that they did, have a choice, than how can someone else, who has been given all the necessary fundamentals, not have a choice?
Why Do You Teach Your Children?
When they’re young, you teach your children the lessons you feel are important because, somewhere inside, you know you can’t stand by their side and walk with them through life. –So you instill those lessons in them, hoping they’ll listen and remember when they’re on their own.
Parents… sometimes your kids won’t listen. Sometimes we’re stubborn, and sometimes we think you don’t know anything. You don’t understand what we’re going through because you’re old. It’s just the way kids think.
What we do with our lives once we’re grown, however, really is due to our choices – to the decisions we make. Not the decisions you made for us when we were young. There is a point where we become responsible for our own lives and how they turn out. –And that point is about the time we decide, usually somewhere in our late teenage years, that we’re adults.
When we start making our own choices, independent of you, we become responsible for them. When we move out of the house, there is no longer any doubt we’re responsible for the way our lives go.
Yes, we’re still your children. And yes, you’ll still want to teach us things. However, the older we get, the more you’ll be a mentor. We’ll ask questions and draw on your experience. We’ll learn, eventually and through much heartache, that you can be counted on to share your knowledge – knowledge, by the way, that keeps us out of more trouble when we follow it.
The difference is we’ll be listening.