Up, up and away

At a certain point in my motherhood journey, I stood holding a balloon bouquet so large that I could not see my children through it. A metaphorical bouquet, mind you. Picture little ‘ole me holding a boatload of balloons in my arms.

Emblazoned on each balloon was an expectation or wish for my children. Over the years, these expectations grew and grew. What may have started with “health” and “happiness” quickly ballooned (pun entirely intended😊) into “heading to Harvard” and “future President.”

You mamas out there with me? I know I’m not alone.

When we are so enveloped in our expectations and wishes that we cannot clearly see the child in front of us, it is time to let that bouquet fly. To let the expectations and wishes fly. To instead accept our children for who and what they are, helping them realize their own dreams rather than succumb to ours.

This is not what I was going to write about this week. But then, my youngest . . . sigh.

My youngest has decided he will read the Bible, from beginning to end, before the end of the year.

When asked why, he replies, “I really don’t know.”

We are not evangelical Christians, so reading the Bible from cover to cover—as somewhat lapsed Catholics—is really not our thing. But, this child of mine voraciously devours books and feels the Bible is a new level of meaty prose. I do think there may be some religious curiosity on his part also.

I could not have predicted his new passion to save my life.

If my mother were alive, she would jump to an immediate desire for a priest in the family. Alas, I do not see this as a harbinger of things to come. Rather, I see it as a fairly typical experience in mothering. Put simply: We have very little control over our children’s predilections.

I’m not so unusual with my multicolored metaphorical balloon bouquet. Most mothers, when their child is born, hold tightly to their own version of the same, each with a wish attached for this newborn person. “Becoming a successful doctor,” “meeting a nice girl,” “being honest and kind.” You get the picture. Each mother comes with her own ideas and wishes for each child.

We may not consciously realize we’re holding this balloon bouquet. But, when our children begin to make their own choices, it becomes obvious—based upon our reactions—that we had more than a few preconceived notions of how their lives would develop.

The mother who holds a balloon emblazoned with “becoming a successful doctor,” nearly faints at the loud pop as her child announces she would like to become an artist. The mother whose child is always bullying, despite her best efforts, sees only the remnants of her balloon—“being honest and kind” lies in pieces on the ground. And the parent whose son announces he is gay realizes “meeting a nice girl” no longer belongs in her balloon bunch.

Our kids feel the bursting of our balloons. Or, to chuck the metaphor, they feel the weight of our expectations—and the resulting disappointment when they are not met.

But this is not fair, right? They did not ask to live up to our desires. They were born into a life that should be of their own choosing.

My eldest would be a phenomenal automotive design engineer. But, he hates book learning. ADHD and a kinesthetic style of learning mean he thrives in hands-on environments. “An engineering degree is just too much school, Mom. Not my thing,” he tells me. I know his IQ. He went to a gifted school. I know what that brain is capable of. But I also know my son only puts forth effort when his passion for something or someone is lit. His choice of an applied science or hands-on technical degree suits him far better than a traditional program.

It took me years to come to terms with who he is, despite the fact that I of course love him. And thank goodness I’ve been able to wrap my head around what he wants rather than what I want for his life. I’m supporting him in his education choices, knowing he needs to follow his inner voice. I can weigh in from the stands, but it is his rodeo. Our relationship—and his happiness quotient—are the better for my acceptance.

As for my youngest, the Bible devourer, who knows? He may be a doctor. He may be a scientist. He may be a professor. For me, it doesn’t matter so much as long as he is happy. Because I have learned with my eldest, it is best to let go of my balloons. I watch them float away, happily—a far more peaceful endeavor than when they pop loudly one by one, accompanied by my rending of garments.

Perhaps because I have so many friends whose children are choosing colleges, majors, life paths, I see the angst. We make things so much harder for our kids than they need to be. We don’t trust in the inevitable solidity of the Universe to shepherd our “babies” toward their calling. And we have a hard time, as parents, accepting the children for whom detours are an integral part of the process.

My mantra for the past several years has been “up, up and away.” Let those helium-filled suckers fly. As soon as I did, our family felt sweet relief from my weighty expectations.

Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes WE are the problem we are trying to solve, not our children. Kudos to all of you out there who take note and get out of your child’s freakin’ way. To me, that takes more true parenting skills than all the helicoptering in the world.

Up, up and away is starting to show me its luster.

 

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36 Comments Add yours

  1. reocochran says:

    I noticed you go by Kristine. I apologize, I forgot this. I may have seen the Kay and just assumed this. Have a lovely Monday!

    1. candidkay says:

      No worries! Kay is fine for my blogging friends:). There’s a reason behind the name . . .

  2. reocochran says:

    Oh my goodness! Kay, I absolutely love the analogy of our parenting expectations being like a large bouquet of balloons. 🎈🎈🎈
    My parents were a high school Spanish and Literature teacher and a true, (no bragging), NASA rocket scientist. If I learned one thing from them, it was to be open minded. 😊
    It has helped me so many times!
    I have a cook (well he once was a “la ti dah” chef!), an artist and a realtor for three grown children. The first never went to culinary arts school but was bright in chemistry and boy, did I want him to be a teacher. The second went to Art College. One of the finest, but she likes working at a basic job and “feeding her soul” in her spare time. The realtor went to an expensive university, with thousands of debt. I paid her for over 8 years, $200 a month towards the college loans. Anyway, just in three month’s time, she quit her well paying job, started taking the licensing for real estate and made enough to pay all of her debt in only a small amount of time. Would I have wished them to follow any of these professions? Nope! But my son is a terrific Dad who can do almost anything with his children, including braiding My Little Pony tails. ❤ My oldest daughter has two fine sons who adore their Mom and their stepfather. She makes every party an artistic creation! The youngest is going to learn from her elder siblings how to spend quality time with her future children. My balloons were set off flying a long time ago.

    1. candidkay says:

      Isn’t it wonderful that they didn’t listen to your dreams for them and instead followed their own?! So many kids cave and become miserable. It sounds like you gave them a sound grounding in life and love–and it shows:).

  3. Roy McCarthy says:

    I’d guess the dubious attraction of the Bible will lessen soon after the early good bits of the Old Testament 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      We shall see, Roy! He is currently reading the Book of Kings:. Not slowing down, yet.

  4. cristi says:

    Ahhh, the expectations and the angst…two words I’ve wrestled with myself the last few years. I now despise them both. BUT admittedly they were part of the process. My mantra has been the song from Frozen, “Let It Go”. I can literally hear it playing in my head when my now adult children say something out of my bubble. They come through us after all, they are not of us. “…We are the problem we are trying to solve…” is so true! I just love your words, they ring true in my heart! 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      You and I really need to have coffee:). I say the same thing–they come through us. Just as we are in the world, but not really of it. Sigh. so this will continue when they are adults, eh? Bring on the martinis:).

  5. I decided one summer during adolescence to read the entire Bible. It wasn’t the volume that stumped me, it was the begats. I finally decided that reading the genealogy of this particular tribe was unimportant. And so I skipped them and kept going to early in revelations which was bizarre.

    1. candidkay says:

      My son said much the same to me about the lineage verbiage! He very quickly skims over who begat whom :-). I don’t blame either of you.

  6. Seeds of a book. So much to say, eh?

    “WE are the problem we are trying to solve, not our children.”

    Er. Lost here. Help, anyone? Mine needs to be more independent in the daily grind of reading and writing. I’ve been seeing (slowly, painfully) that much of the reluctance and “inability” stems from how much I’ve been IN IT with him (helping). It’s a fine line, such a delicate dance, the mothering. The leader of a writing program I appreciate wisely encourages teachers/parents to help their students as much as they can. We can’t help them too much, he says. Because once they’ve got the skill, they will PUSH our hand AWAY. “I know how to do this.” Which I’ve seen and heard. But I constantly wonder how much/how little/when to step away.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’ve learned my heart and head get it wrong. But my gut taps into wisdom I can feel and sense, even when I cannot hear it. Follow your gut. You have a good one!

  7. srbottch says:

    Kay, one of your best. Our kids are 43 and 39 and we’re still holding at least 1 or 2 balloons. 😳 But then, I’m holding a couple for us, too. You’re doing great!

    1. candidkay says:

      Aw, thanks:). I understand completely. It’s pretty darn hard for us proud parents to let go of the whole bunch!

  8. nights7 says:

    When it seems your child doesn’t have any life goals letting go of those balloons can be even more challenging. And possibly more important. I’ve been struggling with this over the past year. My oldest son graduated from high school back in June and has done practically nothing since. Like the children of a few who have commented already, he is brilliant, highly intelligent, “academically gifted” (a term I don’t love) but lacks an affinity for academia and, currently, direction and ambition.
    As something of a late bloomer myself (I just this year finished my own college degree) I fully understand that not taking the traditional path is by no means failing and that you can’t force the timing if it’s not right. But as a parent it’s hard to watch; I want him to do SOMETHING. Anything at this point! I definitely have gained some empathy for my own parents. I do try to not feel or convey disappointment in him and make a point of putting a positive spin on his current situation when others ask what he’s doing these days. Adding negativity to whatever is holding him back won’t help.
    It’s always nice to know I’m not the only parent struggling with letting go of expectations and taking a side line seat as their kids progress towards that mythical goal called adulthood.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I feel your pain. My eldest does not quite live up to his academic potential. But I am lucky in that he knows what his passions are in doesn’t deed follow them. I think it’s particularly tough when you have a child who is not sure what his passions are and so does not pursue any. Oh, I feel your pain. My eldest does not quite live up to his academic potential. But I am lucky in that he knows what his passions are in doesn’t deed follow them. I think it’s particularly tough when you have a child who is not sure what his passions are and so does not pursue anything. Can be so very frustrating. I am wishing you the patients and space to realize he’s taking a detour he must feel he needs to take. And wishing him the self-knowledge to figure out what he truly enjoys. You are so not alone in this situation.

  9. Great post and so true! I don’t think we ever stop wanting to be apart of our children’s life. My daughter just finished her degree in psychology, but we talk all the time about her dreams and ideas for the future. At the moment she is really interested in her photography as well and so I just go along for the ride! One things for certain Kristine, it will always change! 👍💚

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, why does it not surprise me that she got a degree in psychology given her mothers penchant for helping people figure things out? 🙂 That’s wonderful. And if she’s a psychologist to take beautiful pictures, so be it. But if she becomes a photographer who just really gets people, the world will still be the better for it :-).

      1. So true! I totally agree 👍

  10. Personal growth is a lifelong pursuit for parents and our children. Loved the way you highlight why managing parental expectations is so vital and challenging. Evolving communication also is important. If our children learn we push them because we believe in them, and if we can continue to build trust, we still have an important role to play by imparting wisdom and providing inspiration long after they have made career choices.

    1. candidkay says:

      And I do believe that is souls we’ll come into this life to teach and learn from each other. I think so many times we forget that her children have come here to teach us things, not just the other way around.

  11. Su Leslie says:

    I so love this metaphor, and your post couldn’t come at a more appropriate time for me. Thank you 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Aw, I’m so glad:). Kismet, right? We help each other at just the right time even through this crazy ether we call technology:).

  12. suemclaren24 says:

    Those “detours” can be painful, but who are we as parents to tell our children that they “should” do this or that? The world is changing rapidly. A four year degree is no longer the aspiration for kids who want hands-on or creativity, and do well with it. The ground rules are established early in childhood – boundaries, rules, norms, etc. as a base from which to fly and reinforced by adult role models Exploration is a normal part of growth. My personal belief is that if we are watching, and supportive, we will see signs very early on of what path the child may choose, “may” being the operative word.

    1. candidkay says:

      Wise words. And I agree with you on degrees. I’ve written a bit on this while wearing my journalist hat–and a four-year degree is outdated before you’ve finished your first year if it’s in any field that’s fast moving (and what field isn’t?). I can see its usefulness for things like learning how to think critically, write well, etc. But I think our education model will be changing to better match our changed world.

  13. We are but the expectations of our own parents Kristine, we can’t help it because it is all we have ever known.
    But as you have said, it is a learning process for both parties…us to release those expectations, but still be the shepherd when needed. And like all else, a beautiful balance is reached and those balloons can just be the decorations they are meant to be ❤

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes! Release the balloons before any more stellar chefs are forced to become accountants:).

  14. Dale says:

    I absolutely feel you, Kristine! It doesn’t help when your friends or family are going on and on about their kids’ successes at this and that university, knowing yours will never go. And that’s okay. My eldest, too, is brilliant but ADD has removed all desire to read books and study. That said, after one year of working in a shop, he has decided to go back to school and learn electricity. Bravo, to him.
    As for the youngest, after dilly-dallying and missing getting into college, he finally got HIS act together and starts in January. Phew!

    Still….

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, such great news about your boys! But your boys are wonderful with our without degrees, from what I can see:). My oldest will go to university, but it will be a mainly hands-on program. And if that makes him happy, I really am ok with it. Why shouldn’t we be, right? We have our own lives to live–no sense in living theirs for them!

      1. Dale says:

        Exactly. I’m just happy they both have a direction now…

  15. Love this post so much!

    ‘Sometimes WE are the problem we are trying to solve, not our children.’

    YES. YES. YES.

    You are such an enlightened and understanding human being and are a beautiful example to parents everywhere. My mom desperately wanted me to marry a guy named John, and couldn’t accept that I was in love with a girl named Dixie. Shouldn’t she have just wanted me to be happy, isn’t that what this whole trip is all about? Your kids are so blessed to have you to guide them as they follow their hearts.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I’m so sorry about your mom. I’m hoping that she has accepted things over time. So much that our kids come to teach us but we have to be open to it or it hurts, and hurts, and hurts–until we surrender, accept and love. Thank you for the kind words. I am no supermom but I love my kids as honestly and wholly as I can:).

  16. Kudos Kay. I like your model and vision for parenting. Much like the idea of parents providing a safe and loving soil for their children to grow and blossom into who they are. Up, up, and away! 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, that’s a wonderful analogy:). Thank you for sharing it. Here’s to our kids growing and blossoming!

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