Thursday, January 11, 2018
Today I am grateful when parents let go. No, I’m not going to start singing that annoying song from Frozen and I apologize because now you will have the first lines running through your brain until you think of another song. Sorry. I’m talking about strong, smart, confident parents who realize that a big part of having kids is finding the ability to let them go, experience, fly without them. Like the parents of the two young people we just met, Ines and Jun.
It wasn’t until long after we returned from our three years in Jakarta, Indonesia that I realized how difficult our leaving must have been for our youngest son, who was in his first year of college. That’s a tough time, especially when you don’t know where you’re going to go on school breaks. He did a lot of couch surfing. He was not very clingy and seemed very glad to get rid of us, but I doubt he really knew what that meant any more than we did. I was struggling in a completely different culture 10,000 miles away and almost no help to him. I feel bad about that. Yet he thrived.
I believe all parents since the beginning of time have wondered if they were doing a good enough job raising their kids. I believe they always will. They know they’ve made mistakes, even if they’re not exactly sure what they were every time. They know they did some things right and might not be sure what there, either. But it isn’t until you gently shove those kids out of the nest like a mother bird does to her offspring, that you see the results of your efforts. Sometimes it takes years.
I can pinpoint the times when I realized our sons had become men. We visited the oldest, a step-kid who always lived on peanut butter & jelly, when he and his family were in Oklahoma. After work he organized and cooked a four course meal for us. Wow. No jelly in sight.
I went to the classroom of a tough Philly school where my oldest was teaching middle school math and saw the respect the kids and other teachers had for him and it blew me away. How could this kid who drove me nuts hiding his homework under the outside steps be standing here as a respected adult?
After college my youngest son (the one we abandoned when we went to Jakarta) got a great management job working for a company that provides food services for stadiums and corporations. I was working at a big office complex when he showed up for a sales call with a couple of guys he was the training. I watched him in his gray suit, pressed shirt and colorful tie and wondered where I was when this happened?
Those of us with grown kids get it. That is why I want to speak directly to the parents of Ines and Jun, who have watched their kids traverse the world solo.
First to Ines’ mom, in Germany: For the last 15 years, after the death of your husband, you were her primary parent. I did that for a short time so I know how difficult it can be to not have someone to check with when you have doubts. From what she told us you sound like a forward-thinking, brave woman yourself, so it is easy to see where Ines gets her courage. Travelling as a twenty-year-old woman, alone, is not for the weak and fearful. Neither is being her mother! I’m sure you had more than one moment where you worried terribly whether she was safe, hungry and healthy. How could you not? You’re her mom. What kids don’t realize is that it is the lifetime job of a parent to have those emotions, even while we keep them to ourselves and watch our children move on. I am a pretty good judge of character and I am going to tell you that you did a fantastic job raising her. She is a poised, funny, kind, adventurous and realistic young woman. I will not say she’s fearless because I think to travel alone you need to maintain a small amount of respectful fear just to be safe. She has good gut instincts and the confidence to listen to herself when she needs to. Be proud. Your letting her go is helping her fly.
Second to the parents of Jun, in Japan: What a fine, fine young man you have raised! I know that mom does not like his newly shaved head and I totally understand. Hair grows. It was not an act of rebellion, in my opinion, but rather a curiosity because so many Americans shave their heads. I had looked up pictures of him when I knew he would stay with us and remember thinking what wonderful hair he had. Then he showed up bald. Too funny, but since I have only met him that way I will probably not recognize him with hair. We had wonderful, long conversations and I can assure you that your son has his head on straight. He helped me understand many little cultural things, including the before and after meal thanks and why it is said. He talked about applying for jobs and cars and design and art and languages and travel. You are not able to carry conversations on these things if your parents are not willing to discuss them, too. Because we were expected to have household staff when we lived in Jakarta, I asked him if you have help, too. He said, “Yes. ME!” I laughed and laughed because that is exactly what my own boys would have said. . .and FYI-I have a son who shaves his head, too. Boys! Jun also explained the lack of tattoos in Japan and seems to respect that part of your culture. I don’t see him getting a tattoo in the future, but since he has such an interesting sense of humor he will probably torture you into thinking he might. My kids would have, too. (And still do.) Please know that he was the most gracious house guest possible. He cleared his dishes, made his bed, didn’t leave his things all over the house and was so much fun to cook for. That boy/man can eat!!!! It was fun explaining the American term “hollow leg” to him. Ask him about it. We had long discussions about art and design and cars and the importance of education. You need to know that you have done a fantastic job raising him. He has a gentle kindness that is rare in someone so young. Be proud. Your boy is growing into a wonderful man and he could not do that if you were not willing to encourage him to take risks.
I know this blog post is much longer than they usually are, but I don’t care. See, Ines, that’s how you speak from your heart. . .without worrying about if someone has decided not to finish reading because it’s too long. Haha. Ines and Jun, when you next see them, I want both of you to hug your parents and spend time telling them how grateful you are for their support. They are why you have the confidenceto travel the world, discover who you are, and what you are made of.
And always remember. . .You’ve got a friend(s) in Pennsylvania!. . .Me! Who, ironically, is having a little bit of trouble letting you go. But I will. Just like your parents! Now fly!