I sure wish someone would tell me when parenting becomes easier. I really thought once my kids could complete the whole going-to-bed cycle themselves, I was pretty much in the clear. Yet, every age seems to bring with it a fresh set of anxiety-ridden angst. For example, my oldest son Jack is a freshman in
college. He wants to make a career out of music, perhaps as a producer, or a studio musician, or a film-sound mixer, or an audio engineer. While I believe he has a tremendous amount of talent, I am very concerned about how he will translate this passion into a viable livelihood. Judging from the experiences of my former drama students, I can see how dicey a career in the performing arts can be. I want him to pursue his dream, but I also want him to have a permanent address someday. We had been discussing some possible strategies for the future when I noticed how often I used the expression, “It’s your life.” I thought to myself, what did I truly mean by “your life”? Turns out, it all depends on which word you stress when you say it.
Putting the emphasis on the possessive pronoun, “Your,” then one is talking about who’s going to be making the choices. Starting from his first breath, my wife and I made all of them. From where he lived to when he ate, from what he wore to who he interacted with: we set Jack on a course of our own liking. I never worried about being embarrassed by my four-year-old son’s earring or tattoo because if I don’t want him to have one, he simply didn’t. Setting a strict bedtime when he was a toddler was at times difficult, but it was enforceable. Now that Jack has left the nest and headed out to college, the ballgame has greatly shifted. I can’t make him get a haircut because I think it’s too long. I don’t have the legal authority to make sure he wears clothes that match. It’s painful to let loose the reins; yet, at the same time, it is absolutely essential. Even though my wife and I created his life, it was never ours to control forever. It was merely on loan to us as caretakers. Our job was to make sure he was properly supported as he grew up into an independent being. Once that process is complete, our supervisory role is over. Of course, making the decisions is only part of the equation. The rest comes when one switches emphasis to the second word, “Life.”
When your offspring take over the helm, then it becomes their life. And there’s a reason why it’s singular tense. Regardless of what kids may think from playing Xbox, we all only get one chance at this. There are no replays, no resets, and no do-overs in this game. Make a bad choice, and all of the consequences belong to you. Forever. Jack’s first taste came with his driver’s license when we constantly told him, “One bad decision can alter your life in an instant.” Now that maxim spills over in a thousand different ways. It’s on him to recognize when it’s time to go to bed, to wash his clothes, to eat food that requires mixing actual ingredients and not just microwave defrosting. Should he get a credit card, the bills go to him now. When he buys his first car, he’ll need to provide the insurance to cover it or suffer the repercussions if he doesn’t. At first glance, one would think this shifting of responsibility would be a huge weight off my shoulders, right?
Wrong, it only makes being his father more difficult. Now, I spend my time second guessing every parental decision I ever made in preparing him for this moment. Was I right to make him practice his cello every day of middle school for a half-hour, whether he knew his part or not? Should I have been less critical of his report cards? Instead of praising the A’s, I often only criticized the B’s because I always thought he could do better. Did I provide a good role model for him? Did I need to be so strict, or was I too easy? These questions only pile up on top of each other, and my personal shame spiral starts spinning in earnest. Maybe I would feel better if this was something that every parent went through; but, when all is said and done, only one irrefutable truth remains. I’ll have to live with all of those decisions, good or bad, because they’ll always be a part of my life.