Empty Nest

August 10, 2014 at 10:38 am

Stanley Hauerwas was a dynamic and charismatic teacher in the classroom.  He was a Texan with big embracing personality.  He was one of the many outstanding teachers I had at ND when I pursued graduate work.  He filled up the room with his warmth and insight.  We spent some time reading one of his books titled “Truthfulness and Tragedy.”  It discussed how parents often find their self-worth, joy, and gratification in the performance of their children in an unhealthy fashion. Don’t we all experience this identification with our children?  Haven’t we all seen its inordinate expression in some parents?   Hauerwas talked about the fact that such ambitions for and identification with our children  will be frustrated if you have a child that cannot be a superstar in the classroom, stage, athletic field, or in their career.   The world is not Lake Wobegone where all the children are above average.  Tragedy teaches the truth of this perspective.

For example, tragedy may enter our life with a sickly child.  However, such tragedy brings home the Truth that all children are gifts. For it is a common experience that these children often are great teachers of life’s lessons.   They teach us that children are independent agents who we should not try to control.  We should let all of our children be free to live life. Let them become themselves.  Let them learn by their choices who it is they are, what their gifts and talents are, what their shortcomings are.

We should not find our self-worth in what our children do or who they become.  We should not be living our lives focused on how others will evaluate us in light of our children’s  lives and choices.  To successfully allow our children to make choices requires some detachment.  Loving detachment.  Courage to Change describes it this way:

I do not wish to interfere with anyone’s opportunities to discover the joy and self-confidence that can accompany personal achievements.  If I am constantly intervening to protect them from painful experiences, I also do them a great disservice.  As Mark Twain said, “ A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

Sometimes it is more loving to allow someone else to experience the natural consequences of their actions, even when it is painful for us both.  In the long run, both of us will benefit.  Today I will put love first in my life.  All I have to do is keep my hands off and turn my heart on.