Sunday, April 8, 2018

Love the kid you've got, not the one you wish you had

Parents of LGBTQ kids, or any kids, even young adult kids,

I ask you to listen; to read and to consider:

In recent months, I've had the fortune and misfortunate of being a touchstone for kids whose parents are rejecting them.  I say "fortune" because it is an honor that they would come to me; I say "misfortune" because it saddens me to hear of their struggles with their parents.

Hindsight being what it is, Bulldog and I have looked back on our earlier parenting years (because parenting isn't ever over) and wondered at WHY we were so hard-assed and rigid on some things. We thought that whatever it was that we felt compelled to stand firm on was important...except it seldom was.  Lucky for us, our missteps were not huge enough that we drove our children away completely. We, luckily, didn't drive a wedge so deep that we cracked the relationships irreparably. Fortunately, in the end, love prevailed.

So many of these kids that come to me are not complaining of things like being grounded unfairly, or other such disciplinary issues; rather, they are expressing distress at simply not being accepted, or loved, or talked to.  Don't get me wrong: I know people, young people and our children especially, can be dramatic, irresponsible and unreasonable.  Yet, what these kids are sharing is that they wish they could simply talk to their parents or feel like their parents love them and accept them.

I remember a time when I thought, and Bulldog did too, that if we controlled certain things about our children, we could feel assured that they would be good people, productive people, happy people. But there are some problems with that: control is an illusion, for one. And if we really want to experience some control, the best way is to simply love them and accept them.

When they make choices that we think are silly or ridiculous, selecting a major in college that won't offer job security, picking a hair color that is unprofessional, choosing to not engage in sports because they'd rather pursue something else, dating "beneath" them, we shouldn't force them to our way of thinking. Not only will our forcing them NOT guarantee that their lives will be ok, but we are more likely guaranteeing the opposite; what they NEED from us more than anything is knowing that we love them, even when they choose poorly, or simply differently, than what we think is best.

When they reject some of our values, that doesn't mean they aren't establishing good values of their own.  It only becomes personal if we give them ultimatums: accept my religion or you lose my support as a parent, or accept my version of morality or lose my support as a parent, or accept my version of what is best for you or lose my support as a parent.  If we do that to our children, we hurt them and ourselves no matter how our children chose and here's why:

If they choose differently than what we desire, we lose them because of that damned ultimatum we gave them.  If they choose as we desire, we've still lost them in a way because our love and acceptance is obviously conditional and they know it on some level. The truce will be an uneasy one. On some level, they will understand that our love and acceptance apply as long as they live as we expect them to.  In other words, they may choose as we desire, but will believe that we do not love them unconditionally.  We may protest and claim we DO love unconditionally...except that our actions speak louder than our words.

We're lucky-or maybe we're not just lucky. We're close to all of our kids despite our really rough stretches. In then end, shutting up was one of the best things we did.  Not commenting on choices they made was one of the best things we did. Wanting to know the people that were important to them  was one of the best things we did. The hardest part was letting go of our expectations. Don't we all think that the harder we hold on to them the more likely we are to achieve them?  But that's a myth and we hurt ourselves and our loved ones, our beloved children, when we do that.  Let go of expectations and in the space that is left, just fill it with love-a text message, a phone call, a lunch date, a happy post on Facebook, a family dinner, a game night, a small gift, a small compliment.  The hard part is letting go; it's surprising how easy it is after that.


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