Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

Archive for the category “childraising”

LANDING THE HELICOPTER and LOVING MY SON

He’s had an easy life, but his life hasn’t been easy.

Do I contradict myself?  Not really.  While we gave him every bit of support, love, and encouragement two parents could give, our son has had challenges in his 19 years that, for better or worse, complicated things.  They may be no more or less difficult than what other children go through, but somehow we believed he was in need of…more.  More of us, more attention, more patience, more protection.  

My son, 3 years old, and me
He woke up one morning at 20 months old with a crossed eye.  Besides my initial terror and fear, there was this horrible thought, that he would be “that” kid, the one with the crossed eye, the one who the other kids taunted and teased.  Fortunately he was young enough and was treated quickly enough, with surgery and eye patches and glasses, that by the time the other kids were old enough to be that mean, he looked fine…with his glasses on. It was hard when he went swimming, or to sleepovers. After 2 more surgeries, he now, at 19, has beautiful green eyes that are nearly 100% straight. 

For me, that morning, seeing his adorable face looking so different, was a game-changer.  It wasn’t until his most recent surgery this past May that I realized how overwhelmed I was by it all, that morning long ago – how my heart broke for him, and for me, and how I wanted to make things better, sooner, right away.


Then, at the age of 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD.  We sort of knew that was coming, but now we had to deal with it, with medication and tutors, teacher conferences and fights about homework.  Between his natural tendency towards inertia (much like his mother) and his obsession with all things visual, be it television, computer, or video games (something like his father), school was really, really tough for him. 

But he had a lot of friends.  And that made him really happy.  And since it made him happy, we encouraged them to be at our house, and so they did…growing boys who laughed and fought and ate and slept on floors and sofas.  We love those boys.  Maybe, just maybe we should have said no sometimes, sent the boys home, especially when his grades were poor or his attitude was bad.  

In high school, he found a level of commitment that he’d never shown before while playing football.  Finally, in his senior year, he was starting on the offensive line.  He was doing it, and doing it so well!  What a thrill it was to watch him play, to have him come home, stinky and tired and excited about the game that week.  And what a heartbreak it was when, after a couple of weeks of pain in his leg, we found out that he had a stress fracture in his femur.  He was out for the remainder of the season.  
My o-lineman and me 2009


Now, in college, he’s had a huge awakening of sorts.  He has finally, finally! figured out that he can study, and learn, and take a test and get a good grade.  Most importantly, it DOES matter to him if he succeeds.  Freshman year, he was so anxious, so tied up in figuring things out, that he never really found his people, never really found a place for himself at college.  

So now he wants to come home, continue college here, near his friends and family, in a place where he feels safe and understood, with people who have loved him for a long time.  We understand this, we really do.  But we won’t let him come home…not yet.

Our son is an incredible young man, on the verge of figuring it all out – for himself.  Where I think we went wrong while raising him was to figure out too much for him, and not let him fall and hit the ground without us cushioning the blow.  We weren’t helicopter parents…we were Sikorsky military copters, eagle-eyed and ready to do battle.  Yes, he was stubborn and careless about his schoolwork, but we were stubborn and careless about the amount of energy we put into helping him, about never letting him pick himself  up without us lending a hand.  

My son and husband, 2010
So we’re insisting he finish this year, even though he’s not very happy there, because we know that what he’s learned over the past few months is just the beginning of him learning about how to be a man, and how to be confident, and how to find his way in the world.  

We know he can do it…now let’s hope we can.

OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT OUR MASTERPIECES

Masterpiece – Van Gogh

I spent the weekend with some of my family, which was, as always, a lot of laughing, a bit of arguing, a lot of eating, and most of all, an abundance of love.  That’s how MY family interacts – quite different from others, similar to some – but uniquely mine.  There is no place better for me to be than with my family if I am in need of an ego boost,  confidence building, or just the feeling of being completely accepted for who I am.  I know that I’m fortunate in that way – but, despite the good parts, there have been some drawbacks to feeling so completely adored by  them all.  It took me a long time to accept, as my mother has described (and as she felt also) that the rest of the world wasn’t going to applaud when I walked into a room.  In fact, most of the world barely noticed – but I realized that’s ok, as long as the people I care about do.

Interestingly enough, my aunt Susan gave me an article to read about how detrimental it can be to children as they grow up when parents try to rescue them from every pain and disappointment that comes their way.  Both of us have had to learn to manage our urge to protect and insulate one of each of our children in a very profound way, for various reasons.  Some of what the article talked about was not relevant to me – for example, I was never one of those parents to rush in and pick up my child when he or she fell – I was pretty good about letting them get up and brush themselves off and continue on their way.  My Achilles heel was always about hurt feelings by other children – and later on teens – experiences I can vividly recall from my childhood, though in reality those episodes were few, both for them and for me, and not so awful.  The fact is, it’s the beginning of learning that the applause won’t always be there, that no one in the world will ever find you as fascinating as your family does (for my children, at least), and that, bottom line, self-confidence and self-worth come from inside of us, through achievements, relationships, and most importantly, moments of self-reflection and strength.

Masterpiece – Michelangelo
Leaving our children alone to develop the skills to be their own best fans is very difficult for many parents.  Every grade in a class, every game of baseball, is another opportunity for our children to feel successful or to feel like they have failed.  But succeeding and failing are important parts of growing up, and allowing them to find their way, as much as we can, without interfering in their internal development, is what makes the best adults.  One of the lines in the article that really made me think was this:  Your child is not your masterpiece.  For parents, that can be the most difficult lesson of all to learn.  We invest so much of our emotional, physical, and psychic energy into raising our children. This can make it hard to let them go and find their unique persona– especially for the type of parent who sees their children as an extension of themselves, to the detriment of everyone involved.

I know my children both, to some degree, expect the world to adore them as much as their family does – for them, it’s inevitable, because this is how we love each other.  But my hope for them is that they are able to find the ability to continue to see themselves in this positive, encouraging light, just by looking inside themselves and having the confidence in their skills, personality, and successes – things that have nothing to do with just walking into a room.

Pretty darn good – Greenthal
There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it.  ~Chinese Proverb

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