Sunday, February 21, 2010

Letting Them Know or Letting Them Go

She'd like to say she's excited about the engagement. That she has visions of a joyous and hope-filled wedding. That she anticipates a long and loving marriage. That her most troubling thought is finding the perfect mother-of-the-groom dress and a fabulous pair of matching shoes.

But her son is a college freshman struggling with a chronic, life-threatening illness. And his fiance is 17.

Pretending to be happy for them? It might be easier if she could pretend her concerns weren't real.

Are they committed to making their education a priority, amidst the giddy preoccupation of young love? If not, are they responsible enough to find and keep full-time employment, as few and low-paying as those jobs might be? Are they ready for the very real possibility of unplanned parenthood? Do they realize the words "in sickness and in health" carry extra weight when one spouse has a serious, lifelong disease?

Can they comprehend the possibility that the person they now think they can't live without might, someday, become the person they can't live with?

We cannot make every decision for our children, especially as they become young adults. If the desired outcome of raising children is that they become intelligent and independent adults, we must learn to let them feel their own way. As they grow, we inevitably loosen our grasp on their lives.

And even as they make what we conceive as mistakes, we hope their decisions or actions are somehow for the best--or at the least, are a learning experience.

Some of their choices make us cringe; others bring us to tears. Many mistakes are recoverable. Others carry lifelong implications, and lead to lifelong regrets.

As a middle-aged woman, I still dismiss much of my mother's advice. Yet I've come to accept pieces of it more easily than I did at 19. I'd like to think I have some significant impact on my own two young adult children. Even so, I know I'm not as strong an influence as I hope. I have to believe I've done the bulk of my job, and any advice I now offer--and surprisingly find accepted--is merely a bonus.

Still, a fine line exists between acknowledging our children's independent thinking and allowing them to set themselves up for a lifetime of regret.

When should we let them hear our words of caution and concern?

And when should we simply let go?


  1. Am glad this college freshman is not your son. Perhaps the young couple you write about will do just fine in life and in marriage. It is just that it gives their families extra concern. Wishing them all the very best!