Dear Carolyn: My only child is 28 and lives 1,000 miles away. Said child is self-supporting in a challenging field and professes to look up to me personally and professionally.
But this child is so different from me – basically more like my spouse in temperament and approach to life. There also are other things I am struggling with: child’s admitted unbelief in God, lack of interest in other core values (e.g., civic responsibility to vote), behavior and some bad/harmful decisions that fly in the face of all I stand for.
I know intellectually this child does not have to be a mirror of me. But I see others with parent/child relationships where so much more is shared and valued – I just don’t see that for myself and it is so painful. How do I get over this and accept this child for what they are?
A: Love through your heart, not your ego.
Full disclosure, I fundamentally object to the underlying assumption in your letter: that sameness is the sole or even predominant source of “so much … shared and valued.”
And you love (and presumably share with and relate to) the spouse your child resembles – so isn’t there a transitive property at work here? A loves B and B = C so A loves C?
When you look around you, why don’t you also see families with kids who’ve gone their own ways? This must happen to some degree in every family with children, that a child bears a stronger resemblance (physically, emotionally, spiritually) to one parent over another. I suspect you’re either not recognizing that these parent-child pairs you admire also have had their differences to overcome, or you’re only looking for examples that reinforce your sense of loss.
Either way, yes, it’s hard to accept you won’t have the hoped-for easy rapport with your child. But at a certain point all of us come to this crossroads in one way or another, where a life’s purpose slips beyond our reach, and all of us face the same choice: crumble or adapt.
You haven’t come close to exhausting your means to adapt and embrace your child. Doesn’t believe in God? You can’t make someone believe, but you can applaud honesty. So many who drift from childhood faith conceal this from the folks. Doesn’t vote? Treat it as youthful detachment, or consider that Child contributes in other ways. Bad decisions? Show me a young adulthood without them. Resembles Spouse, not you? Well, you loved Spouse’s good qualities enough to marry them. Surely Child has qualities you wish you had.
And: Kids generally start out wanting to be like their parents. Some succeed at it because they are like them. Some succeed at it at a high personal cost because they aren’t like them but make it work anyway. Some don’t succeed and carry that sense of failure. Some don’t succeed but realize, hey, I was never like Parent to begin with, so I have to go my own way.
The last group is one of the most courageous going. If that describes your child, then you get some of that credit for not getting in the way.
Now it’s time to get out of your own way. When you want to find things to celebrate, they tend to turn up.
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