Today’s interview with Vicki Caruana, author of The Joy of Letting Go, probes the issues around our role in our children’s future and identity. (Past interviews interviews include the process of letting go and how our approach to letting go helps with the transitions to college.)
Vicki, The Joy of Letting Go offers 52 daily readings that help parents by offering grace and wisdom in the letting go process. I loved the title of Day 5, “Alma Mother.” The wisdom of that particular reading is something I hold dear. One of my most passionate beliefs is that only God has the right to shape someone’s destiny. I don’t mean that parents/spouses/friends don’t get to give positive input; I mean that in the end, God and the person get to choose his or her path and destiny. You quote Psalm 16:11 which says, “You make known to me the path of life” (NIV).
The psalmist is talking about God, not his mother (lol!). It’s really hard not to constantly think Momma knows best, but I know that even when I do have a “better” way for my child, it’s his or her life not mine. And sometimes God is orchestrating something very different than I would. You wrote, “Sometimes what you think is the best choice may not be the right choice. We need to allow our kids to tell us they don’t like peas so they don’t have to resort to hiding them under their mashed potatoes.”
What are some warning signs that we’ve fallen into the “momma knows best” trap?
Well, momma does know best! It’s funny. . . I’ve spent a lot of time promoting that parents know their kids better than anyone else and can and should be their greatest advocates. As a teacher I know this is true. But I also know that we tiptoe (or should) around being an advocate without being an adversary. There are times when going to bat for your child is warranted, while at other times it will only delay their development into independent and responsible adults. There is a tug of war always being waged. It began when they were about three years old and said to us “I do it by myself!” They’ve been telling us in so many words that they know what they want and would like the chance to make their own decisions. When we fall into the trap of basically sending them away with just a pat on their sweet little heads as if to say, “Oh, aren’t you just the cutest?” and disregard the assertion of authority over their own lives, we foster one of two responses. They’ll either hide their peas under the mashed potatoes or they will throw their peas at you in a food fight! Many of our kids may not be developmentally ready to confront us and assert their independence. But don’t mistake their compliance with agreement. Eventually they will find a way to live their lives on their own terms; it may not be in a positive life-giving way if we silence their disagreement.
One of your daily reading is entitled, “Lord , Shut My Mouth!” Talk a little bit about the danger of our words (and unspoken attitudes!) in the letting go process.
It is said that silence means agreement, but the silent treatment conveys just the opposite. So it isn’t always a matter of keeping your mouth shut about what we think about our children’s decisions; it’s about being discerning about the power our words or our silence has on our children’s confidence. I picture walking hand in hand with our son – Chip on one side and me on the other – and we hold on tight and if we come to a puddle on our path, we lift our son up and over it. That only works when they’re two to five years old. After that, they’re too big to lift up over that puddle. I can walk side by side with our son and point out the puddle, but it’s up to him to step over or around it. If he doesn’t pay attention, he’s going to find himself ankle deep in muddy water. Do I say “I told you so”? Do I belittle his lackluster efforts to avoid the puddle? No. I myself step around the puddle before us and keep walking. When he catches up, he’s learned that he needs to watch where he steps.
In that same entry you talk about how sometimes it is good to speak wise words, but even in this how sometimes they will fall on deaf ears. How can one know when to speak and when to be silent?
Knowing when to speak and knowing when to be silent is very individual. Each situation, each child-parent relationship requires its own discernment. I still believe in the litmus test that if there is danger for a child’s mind, body, or soul you must speak up. But if it is a matter of preferences, likes and dislikes, then my opinion is let it go. All of this may fly out the window if our kids come directly to us for advice. Once they do that, the door opens and I guess so does my mouth!
You talk about the very real angst of watching our children make decisions we know will bring them pain. Is it our job to protect from pain?
Angst – yes, that’s the perfect word for this experience! I’m not convinced it’s my job to protect them from pain. I do believe it’s my job to keep them safe. As our children grow into their own “firsthand faith”, they will learn, just as we have, that suffering – and with it often pain – is part of our perfecting; it’s part of our good and God’s good purposes. Admittedly, watching my sons make decisions I suspect will bring them pain brings me straight to my knees! Maybe that’s where God wanted me all along.
What about decisions that seem contrary to how we raised them? How can we wisely navigate this situation?
This is happening to all of us – I doubt any of us can escape it in one form or another. I recognize that it can be disappointing, discouraging, and maybe embarrassing. After all, how often do we post on Facebook that our son no longer goes to church or that our daughter has dropped out of college? We don’t or if we do, we’re really looking for sympathy from our friends. Those realities are benign compared to what is really going on in the lives of parents of teens and young adults. Again I compare this to our relationship with God. How often do we stray from how He raised us? He is so set on relationship with us that He chooses to love and to remain steadfast with arms wide open even as we run around like our yellow lab, Bella, after a squirrel in our backyard. Make home a safe place always to come home to and remain steadfast. That way, when our children run in a zigzag after that squirrel, they still know they can come back to you because they can rely on you being right where they left you – with arms wide open.
Friends, I find myself constantly on my knees asking the LORD to guide my adult children and to show me when to speak and when to be silent. Perhaps that’s why today’s questions with Vicki were especially meaningful to me. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did! We’ll have one more interview with Vicki on Friday. Looking forward to sharing an excerpt from her book!
Don’t forget: Vicki Caruana and Lisa Samson, who I interviewed last week, both offered to do a giveaway. So . . . if you comment on my blog between now and Easter, your name will go into a drawing for one of their books!