If you had asked me a decade ago, when my kids were between the ages of two and twenty, whether I had any expectations for their adult lives I would have something trite like "It doesn't matter to me, I just want them to be happy."
Because as parents that's what we want for our kids, right?
But as kids develop intellectually, emotionally, and socially during adolescence, they often make a choice (or two...), behave out of character, or show up one day as someone you've never seen before and this can trigger the realization that you do actually have an opinion and some underlying expectations about how you think their life should flow.
Most parents I know believe high school graduates into college, then comes a solid job search which brings financial stability, at some point son/daughter finds a partner, they marry and buy a starter home which may come after renting for awhile and getting past some student debt, they usually start a family...smile, happy face, blah blah blah.
But, what happens when they don't step seamlessly onto that path? My experience is parents will often become angry and/or frustrated with their son or daughter...rolling their eyes and telling friends they can't believe their kid is taking six months (a year) off from life to "find themselves." Sometimes parents may lose sleep wondering what will happen to their child's future and may look for where they've gone wrong because their child isn't "on the path" to a happy life.
Not me. When life started unfolding differently than I "expected" for my kids I decided to embrace the most valuable parenting lesson of my life.
I learned to let go and detach from their outcome.
When did we forget that our kids didn't come into the world to live out our fantasies about who they are meant to become? When did we forget that each of us comes into the world with our own agenda and has been given the free will to create the experience and lessons we desire in order to evolve our soul?
Was it when our parents didn't encourage us to take a road less traveled? And could they have done so because maybe their parent(s) didn't support them in their off-the-beaten-path choices?
Over the past decade I have experienced my kids making decisions and taking paths I would never have expected or signed them up for...but, thank God for their courage to continue to walk their own way and for my ability to understand that my part in their life is to encourage and support whatever their life's calling might bring.
My eldest son, Nick, spent his youth going between two very different homes. Though he had twice the parents most kids do (mom/dad/stepmom/stepdad) I believe that may have been a contributing factor to his feeling like he didn't know exactly where he fit into the world. As I have written over the years, Nick fell into addiction in his early 20s and [fortunately for all of us] through some trials and a lot of hard work on his part (mentally and physically), with our emotional support and encouragement along the way, at 30 he is almost eight years sober and has created a life for himself that, while not perfect (because who's life is anyway), is one he is comfortable, productive, and sees a bright future in.
I could not have predicted Nick would have to remake his life literally from the ground up in his 20s, but that's what happened. No mother I know would sign their child up for living through hitting rock bottom and losing a parent to the disease. Soon to be married, he's chosen a woman who compliments him and together they have discovered some new life interests...like parenting many an animal (birds/reptiles/rodents and my Granddog Jack) as well as a love of hammock camping! Nick didn't chose the college path but has found a way to turn his passion for computers and IT into a fruitful career. Though there were years of uncertainty about the direction of his future, I have found myself inspired regularly by Nick's courage to continue to take his unique steps and create a life all his own.
My second eldest, Allen-Michael, did graduate into college and his move after finishing that step (including studying abroad and taking a year away after his sophomore year to do ministry) was to go to work for a 30-year-old Catholic ministry organization out of St. Paul, Minnesota called NET (National Evangelical Team). At the moment Allen-Michael is leading the expansion of that ministry into Scotland. NET utilizes the talents of young adult Catholics to bring retreats to middle-school-aged kids to help them develop their faith in God. No plans to marry, when Allen-Michael is done with this assignment in Scotland he feels called to enter the seminary and eventually be ordained a Catholic priest.
I'm really excited to see what the next three kids teach me about life's path! I fully realize their paths are about them not me.
Have you struggled with your child's choices or what their future might bring? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts/feedback/questions! Respond under comments or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.