Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"Life Is Hard and Cruel ...

and I have learned that in this world some things are impossible." With these words the love-struck, but unrequited, lieutenant in the classic film Babette's Feastbids the beautiful young woman farewell. She is one of two daughters, both of legendary beauty, who are held captive by her father's ascetic religious views. In this pious family the daughters are held so closely in parental grasp that the man in question knows his future is impossibly bleak.

I must confess that on occasion as a parent I echo the lieutenant's sentiments. There are moments when I feel like I should back out or away, but my commitment has already been made. Like any other sane person in the world there are times when the pressures of being a parental role model of morality and hope are nearly too much.

I must imagine that it is frustrating to most parents when the values they consider fundamental and foundational are ignored or repudiated by their children. I shouldn't be surprised that my children should be any different than others, but there are times, even after all these years, when I think to myself, "Good grief. Why can't this kid see how much better her life is because she lives with us?" I reflect upon what I know of their early years of abuse or neglect and wonder why it seems so difficult for them to own the values of our family.

Our values are sound, and I think, reasonable and positive ones. We are connected with our kids, we follow their progress in school, we show up at their sports or other events, we spent time with them on the weekends. We do our best to know where they are, who are they are with and what they are doing. We have also learned that we cannot control what they choose to do, and that's what is so hard.

I don't feel the need to control them, but it pains me to see accumulated choices leading some of them in directions that could eventually become irreparable. There are always consequences to our choices, and sometimes those consequences haunt us forever. My concern is lost, of course, on those who refuse to hear or for whatever reasons are in a place where they have to find out for themselves.

And I understand that, really I do. I know all about adolescent development and the need for exploration and self-differentiation and all the rest. But the difference between the theories I have learned over the years and my children is that, well, these are mychildren. These are not some random adolescents out in the world; they belong to me. I have claimed them.

But they are not mine. They never have been. From the beginning they were God's, and until the end they will remain God's children. The challenging thing is that for at least some period of their life they have me as one of their parents. I cannot simply shirk responsibility and say, "Well, these kids belong to God, and I'm sure they'll find their way." There are moments when parents need to be deeply involved in their children's lives, and times when they need to stand a distance. The challenge is knowing when is the right time for which, especially when you parent children who have attachment or other emotional issues.

As I was pondering the Lieutenant's words, and realizing once again that I do not have the option of simply moving away forever and starting over in some fantasy place a world away, I was interrupted by our youngest son. I say "interrupted," but that has more force than I mean, because his presence is always such a blessing.

I stopped typing to hear him ask, "Hey, Dad, guess what the neighbors are having for dinner?"

"I don't know, Wilson, what?"

"Fish," he said with his eyes lighting up. (Wilson is a consummate lover of fish and other types of seafood).

"How do you know that?"

"I watched him skinning them," was his response.

"Well, that's pretty telling, isn't it?"

"Mm. Hmmm. So, what are we having for dinner, dad?"


"Oh. Even better."

Maybe life isn't that hard and cruel as I sometimes think!

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