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.