When my daughter went off to college I remember a friend asking me if I was experiencing “Empty Nest Syndrome.” I told her no because I always believed Angela did not belong to me but was merely loaned to me for safekeeping until she reached adulthood. My job was to protect her and guide her so she one day could stand on her own and take care of herself.
I recently heard a Garth Brooks song about his dad doing just that. The verse goes, “You can help them find their wings but you can’t fly for them. If they’re not free to fall they’re not free at all.” This struck a cord with me because I have always felt this way about being a mom. No parent wants to see their children hurt or struggle, but the hurt and struggle is where they find their wings. The hurt and struggle is where they grow and learn. Anyone can handle the good times. It is the times of strife where we grow.
When Angela was a little girl she was ridiculed by her classmates and no one would include her or play with her. I watched my confident toddler lose her confidence in herself. I tried to find answers from her teachers but to no avail. I just had to watch and let her know I was there for her and reinforce how special I thought she was. What I did not know is Angela had ADHD. This affected her ability to interact with her classmates and self-police her behavior. She was not diagnosed until she was a junior in college. During her school years I was hard on her when she failed to complete her school assignments. It felt like I always had to punish her for bad behavior. Once she reached middle school I came up with “the homework book.” This was a checks and balances system to ensure her homework was completed daily. This did the trick. By 9th grade she was on her own and she did well enough in high school to be accepted to college. Although, she struggled in college she did graduate. When she received the diagnosis of ADHD she was upset that she would have to deal with this for the rest of her life. I explained to her she should be proud of the fact she was able to achieve 3 years of college without diagnosis. I told her this was quite an accomplishment as most students with ADHD (undiagnosed) don’t get through their first year. I reminded her she was dealing with it before her diagnosis. The only difference was now she knew what was wrong and could educate herself on healthy ways to deal with it.
I spoke with a counselor on this subject as I did not want to be an enabler in Angela’s life. I wanted to be there for her but in a positive and supportive way. Angela is now 35 and has successfully taken care of herself and lives on her own. She is not only a beautiful woman but a strong and capable one as well. When she lost her dad in 2008 I allowed her to comfort me. I think this made her feel like she could be there for me as I was there for her.
Had I tried to protect Angela from pain and disappointment I believe I would have crippled her and she would not be the amazing woman she is. As parents I believe we only need to let our children know we support them and let them know they have a safe place to fall when needed.
Remember, we too were someone’s child. Think back in your life, where did you grow the most? Not from the good and happy stuff, but from your struggles and triumphs. The biggest gift we can give our children is letting them try and fail. It is only then they truly succeed.