Holding On…and Letting Go…

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From the time we are born, we learn fundamentals of relationships beginning with our parents, siblings, and extended family.  Those first interactions are with the woman who has given us life—our mother.  Close by under the best of circumstances is our father.  Together, they teach and guide us as we make our way through childhood.  If they’ve been on top of our upbringing, we emerge into the world as responsible adults.

Being a parent has never been easy.  It is  the toughest job we will ever have, the most rewarding, and certainly the most thankless—and that’s okay.  We’re not in the parent business to get gratitude.  As responsible parents, we are supposed to stand by our children through the toughest of times—keeping them on course to where they don’t become a burden to society.  The reward is when they turn out as responsible adults.  If you bring a child into this world, you must first be willing to accept responsibility for them, and that’s a tough one to chew in the hardest of times because child-rearing can get darned challenging.  I find I am most comfortable holding my son when he’s sick, has a fever, is barfing on my shoes, and needs to know everything’s going to be okay.  It is comforting to be comforting.

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As your children grow into adults, you have to begin the slow process of setting them free and letting go – allowing them to make their own way.  It is always good for you to be there for your kids as an advisor.  However, in letting them make their own decisions, you allow them to make and accept responsibility for their own mistakes.

What hurts the most as a parent is watching your kid go through the pain of being hurt because what hurts them hurts us.  My wife and I are late-in-life parents.  We adopted our son at birth at 50 and 52 respectively.  It is remarkable how many people comment on our “grandson,” only to be politely corrected that he is our son.  Late in life parents who adopt children should always be mindful of the emotional needs that come with children of adoption.  Children of adoption sometimes have abandonment issues even though they have no memory of their birth parents.  Most of the time adoption goes smoothly as long as you’re truthful with your child and explain why they were adopted.  It is very important for them to understand that they were wanted – not unwanted.  Adopted children struggle with the belief they were unwanted – which creates a lot of emotional issues.  They need to feel secure in your arms and know they are safe.

At 52, I was more ready to be a father than I was at 32 when my first born arrived in 1988.  I had a lot to learn about being a father at 32 and had a long way to go toward being a better father.  I’ve made a lot of terrible mistakes as a father and a step father—and as a long-distance father two-thirds of a continent away.

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I made a tough career decision in 1994 that moved me in Los Angeles when a career decision should have been given more thought—where I put my children ahead of my career.  A divorce followed, further straining an already fragile relationship with my kids.  No one has ever said on their death bed they wished they’d spent more time at the office or on the road.  The deepest regret has always been not having spent more time with the family.

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No matter how much you love your children, distance puts incredible strain on the relationship.  As a faraway parent or grandparent, you miss a lot of important moments in their lives.  As a long-distance father, it has never been easy for me to watch my kids growing up from far away.  I understand what I’ve missed – and sadly, what they’ve missed in me.   They’re all grown now – two of them with children of their own.  It is surely something watching them raise their kids.  Each is doing an incredible job and I am so proud of them.  No matter how much I want to be a part of my grand kid’s lives, it will never be the same this far away.  I have to stay on top of video chats with them, which don’t happen as often as I’d like between my busy schedule and theirs.

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Chances are in this far-flung society you’re a long distance parent or grandparent.  You understand how challenging it is emotionally to miss your kids and grand kids.  If you have a tight budget and can’t travel to see them, rely on modern technology to keep you close.  There are video chat apps that enable you to stay close to those you love.  What’s more, these apps are free which means you’ve run out of excuses not to call.

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I’ve learned with my kids not to hover over them as adults.  I didn’t learn this one easily.  I learned it the hard by overthinking their intent.   I know they love and miss me.  I also know they’re on the same trip I was as a young man.  Sometimes, there just isn’t the time to call or write because life keeps them buried with growing families.

It is true a child is the one relationship you as a parent have where they grow up and go out into the world—and without you.  It takes a lot of courage to set them free and allow them to live their own lives.  This is where you have to be strong enough to know how much your child loves you—and find the courage to let them go – and without the tiresome guilt trips (you’ve broken your poor mother’s heart!!!) you got from your parents.  If you hear from your kids with any regularity, you are blessed.  Most of the time, communication is sparse and not as often as we’d like.

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Whether it is your child, a friend, or a member of your family, it is always best to emotionally set those you love free and see where where your relationship goes.  If you hear from them without a reminder, you have a healthy relationship.  If you don’t,  it is often best to step back and see if they circle back around to you.

Jim Smart

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