By Rhiannon Waits
When our children were born, we endured many a sleepless night as we tried our best to soothe the wails of a newborn. As they grew, we endure sleepless nights to their sickness and sadness. We have all done without to give to the children that enriched our lives with sticky sweet smiles, sparkling eyes and warm hugs. As we embraced the small child, we would smile and envision them as grown and self-efficient. It was then we would catch up on our sleep, buy the good furniture, take those vacations and start thinking about each other.
As they become teenagers, they try to show their independence, but just like when they learned to walk, you watch them fall on their faces many times. As a diligent responsible parent, you once again helped them up, dusted them off and sent them on their way again. You smile and look at your friends and say “Gosh I am glad they are not doing what I did at that age!” You tell yourself that they will get the hang of it and shrug it off.
You handle the car years, the dating modes, the emotional roller coaster of hormones with tears, fears and a few smiles and forge ahead determined to be a good parent. You brave the fashion fades, “know it all attitudes” and the high expense of school. Even as you cherished their every breath and every second you could spend with them – you still knew when they turned 18, you would breathe a sigh of relief and have some money.
If any of you are still living in this delusional fictional world, please do not read any farther. I really do not want to be the one to drop a bomb on your dream. The fact is it does not always happen. In fact, it very seldom does happen. What truly happens when they turn that magic year is much worse than the newborn stage or the terrible twos. The day they turn 18 you can see it in their eyes. They are free from your rules and out of your control. However, your heart is the same and you still want to help them. I hope that this chapter will allow you to understand what real help truly is.
From this point on I will have to admit I have a hard time following what I know should be done. In order to help anyone with my writing, I have to be very honest. I have trouble in this area and it is why I can write about it in such deep detail and with such emotion. I have loved and raised many children with five being my own sons. I constantly keep trying to pick up those that fall and need help. I still cannot stand to see my babies hurt emotionally, financially or physically. It is with an aching heart I tell you that 18 is not a release but instead a drain on your heart, billfold and your ability to sleep. It is a lesson in parenting that is hard to accept.
In order to give you a real look at what it is like, I will compare it to when they learned to ride a bike. You would pick a safe area to learn and run behind them holding their seat. They would go a distance and fall, and you would run with your heart in your throat to make sure they were okay. Each time you did, they would get a little farther before they fell, until one day you watch tearfully as they turn and rode back to you with their face shining their happiness.
Now to educate on the perils that happen after the 18th birthday. Imagine them as a child riding the bike, wobbling, and falling. However, this time they tell you they do not need your advice as they ride through an interstate. You scream and run after them as they fall in front of a semi and you get there just in time to pull them out of the way. They look frightened as you haul them to the hospital to make sure they are ok. They have no insurance so you pay to make sure they are going to get medical attention. As you help them from the emergency room, they pull away and tell you they are grown now. They will inform you they are capable of caring for themselves as they get in your car to head to your home to raid your refrigerator. As soon as they are through eating, they will get on your phone to call their friends and invite them bike riding on the interstate. Save your breath if you are considering telling them they cannot go. They are 18 and can do as they please. You are now hostage of your parental heart and they have you and your life on hold. Welcome to 18 and your (recognize the sarcasm) newfound freedom to do as you wish.
Honestly, we are supposed to allow them to fall and face the consequences of their actions. I just do not know very many parents that can. The fathers seem to be stronger in this area. Mothers seem to have an invisible umbilical cord they stay attached. The inabilities and the abilities of each other to give and take concerning children sometimes cause problems between the couples involved in the life of the child.
The true way to help your children past the age of 18 is to allow them to fall enough to learn the pitfalls of life. You will not always be there for them and by picking up after their life lessons constantly – you are making them dependant on you. Somewhere in our hearts, we cannot accept the fact they are grown and should be becoming more independent. Our strong love for them makes us weak at times even when we want to be strong.
Whenever we helped them learn to walk, we knew there would be times they would falter and fall repeatedly. We knew that a fall could give them a fatal blow so we stood by and supervised them and only stepping in whenever the fall could be life threatening or damaging. This is what we have to do, as they are young adults learning to step into the interstate of life. Hopefully, as in learning to walk, the falls will become less frequent and your 18 year old will become self sufficient.
To recap this chapter before moving on to the next – If you do not allow them to fall they will never learn to walk as a child or as an adult. Just because they fall does not mean they are incapable of handling life – it just means they are learning. If you take away all their obstacles, you are making them dependant upon you and they will not learn to be efficient adults. Therefore, with this being said you must ask yourself if maybe you are the one hanging on to them because you cannot face life with an empty space in your nest. Once you can actually face the answer to that question, ask if you are doing them any favors by stepping in all the time. Just like some people become dependant upon a drug or a drink to get through each day – make sure you do not make your child dependant on you to make through their days. Addiction is not choosey about what it settles upon.
Have faith in the love you gave them and the lessons you taught. Believe that at some point in their life, they will stop running from what they were taught and stand in the glow of it. Take time to find the inner you that become addicted to “child-raising” and love yourself enough to start living for you and your life mate. The artwork is finish, leave it alone or you will ruin it. Dust the child off, help at certain points yet realize there is no magic year. They will still be around for help, but real help is knowing when it is needed and not just asked for. They are never gone from your life – they just stand in a different place.
This chapter carries you from hopes and fears to realities and facts. I think I could write an entire book on this subject yet hopefully by condensing it to one chapter you will see the light. Do not ever think there is a magical year to any stage of your or your child’s life. The plateaus come at their own timetable. The 18th year was made magical by the law of the land, not by the maturity of your child or your ability to let go.
Go buy your new couch and plan your dream vacation. Life is a bed of roses – quit gripping about the thorns. I say that with much love.
In early childhood, you may lay the foundation of poverty or riches, industry or idleness, good or evil, by the habits to which you train your children. Teach them right habits then, and their future life is safe.
Dorothy C. Fisher (1879 - 1958),
Sonia Taitz, O Magazine, May 2003
Hodding Carter Jr.
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