It is every parent’s fantasy—especially in today’s achievement-oriented culture—that their child will move joyfully and effortlessly through life, leaping from success to success, from one mountaintop experience to the next.
As parents, it’s tempting to believe that if we simply improve on the parenting we received, our children will be protected from life’s hurts and troubles at least the kind of hurts and troubles we may have experienced as children. There’s a certain irresistible logic to this idea.
Because we love our children, we want to believe we somehow possess the power—through our parenting—to guarantee their happiness, wellness, and success in life.
For example, the parent who grew up in a household where there was the stress of chronic debt and arguments about money will try to make sure their financial house is in order.
The parent who grew up in a household where education was not valued will want to make sure that their children study hard and do well in school. The parent who grew up in a household that was shattered by infidelity or divorce will do everything she or he can to create a sense of stability and security.
In my case, because I lost my beloved father to alcoholism, I made sure that ours was a household where there was no parental substance abuse.
Because I grew up in a household where problems were sometimes denied, I worked hard to encourage open and transparent communication in our family. Because I grew up in a household where faith was not so important, I made a conscious effort to introduce our two children to God at an early age, and nurtured that faith throughout their growing up years.
These were all well-intentioned efforts. But the older I get—or perhaps I should say the older our children get—the more humbled I am to discover that no matter how many steps my husband and I might take to insure our children’s smooth-going in life, they must ultimately find their own way.
Despite all that we might do with the hope of inoculating them from life’s pain and troubles, they will still have their own hurtful experiences. They will still make mistakes. This is because our children—like we—are human.
Because our children are human, we can be sure they will struggle with illnesses and accidents. They may become entangled in negative relationships. They may make poor choices, sometimes with serious and lasting consequences. They may even choose to reject God.
When these things happen, our children will give us sleepless nights. They will anger and disappoint us. Sometimes they will break our hearts. But I am beginning to learn that it is in the pain of trying times that our children are also learning critical life lessons, and that their character is being forged.
As a person of faith I am learning to trust that, even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances, God is working in our children’s lives. I am learning to internalize Paul’s message of hope to the early believers in Rome when he wrote, “All (Not some, but all!) things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
Just the other day I was talking about these things to a good friend (and mother of four grown sons) when she suddenly turned to me and said, “Oh, Kitty. You worry way too much. Let me let you in on a little secret. Our kids really don’t belong to us. Our kids belong to God. He’s their true father, and he gave them to us on loan, for a season.”
My friend went on to say that despite all our human flaws, God trusts us to do the best parenting we can until the moment comes—and it may very well be a dark and desperate moment—when all we can do is release our children in faith, with prayer, back to their Father Who loves them more deeply and more perfectly than we ever can.
My friend is right. Letting go is so much easier when I remember that I am releasing my children to a deeply personal God who has every hair on their head counted. A loving Father who sends his angels to watch over them, and who has every day of their lives written in his book of life. Most importantly, I am surrendering my children to a God who knows far better than I what’s best for them.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote thousands of years ago, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’”
To recognize that I don’t always know what’s best for my adult children, but to trust that their loving Father in heaven does…
That, I am beginning to learn, is the secret of letting go.