The tears flowed silently as the rain fell on the windshield; the air in the vehicle subdued. In my mind I wondered, where did I go wrong?
I question my boundaries in parenting my sons.
This week had been especially busy and stressful with deadlines looming at the end of-the month. This year one of my resolutions is to put myself outside of my comfort zone. I had been complacent in my personal growth and like to stay within the confines of things I know; things I know I can do well.
With the new year I didn’t waste any time and I am already feeling the discomfort and struggle. I was careful to not stretch myself too thin but did not account for any other issues along the way. Assuming all other things remained the same, the new roles I’ve undertaken were manageable. I hadn’t anticipated any hiccups outside of this plan. From life.
I have always been a creature of habit and routine.
Most of my life has been planned out. When I met my future husband I had been very clear. We were to only be friends. I was uninterested in relationships because I had my career path planned out. We had two years of friendship together when this conversation took place, both aged twenty.
I had a fifteen year plan. After graduation I would apply to medical school. Four years after that I would be in a three year residency. I would then take my exams and settle into a practice for a few years and at age thirty-five, I would then have some time to become involved in a relationship.
It was this man who drove me two thousand miles, a year after graduation, to begin coursework in a a medical school. He suggested a navy recruiter, to offset my costs in joining a flight surgeon program and to our surprise, they readily took me. I spent the year in my studies and found myself in a professor’s office regarding me across his desk.
Why are you here? he had asked.
I had visited the lieutenant commander and he had plotted where my path would take me. It would take me away from my boyfriend, whom I was beginning to realize, I had fallen in love with. He shared the reality of his life, both he and his wife serving the navy. There were no naval installations close to Bethesda, Maryland and the likelihood of being stationed together, given our paths, were not likely.
I had left the base feeling angry that I was being distracted from my career path by some stupid emotion called love.
And so I pondered the question by the professor.
Each student had to pass through his office as we concluded our first year. He questioned my ideas of what my life would be and why I thought medicine was for me. He didn’t question my aptitude in my studies but probed my mental state. My ideals were not what the reality of the profession was. And though I knew the answer of why I was there, I was not willing to acknowledge it.
How does one decide to walk away from the pathway set-in-stone, from age fourteen with thousands of dollars invested, to go with where your heart lies?
I would not be able to delve into the psyho-social mental state of my patients with end-stage cancer; there would be no time. I had red tape, policies and time constraints that would hinder the real reasons I chose the medical profession. I essentially would be a body mechanic; nothing more.
And so I walked away to the shock of my family and friends. I have never regretted this decision. But it has shaped the way I parent my sons. I do not lock them onto a pathway because it is rare to find the teen that knows exactly what he/she wants do with his/her life and follows it through.
Life happens. When it doesn’t pan out the way you expect it to; you feel the failure. The not adding up.
I am now a parent of a high school junior. I have mentally prepared myself as he embarks on the college admissions season. I seek resolutions on underlying issues from my past. My own life choices were exhausting, stressful and expensive and I try not to impose these pressures on my own son.
I had taken my path at the wishes of my dying father; in the end-stages of colon cancer. I would find a cure. I would talk with families and patients to mentally help them through these difficult times. It was the reason I chose my pre-med major, undertook opportunities in research and hospice.
It had been my driving force and I was well on my way. I never stopped to consider if these were my own desires and I truly believed this was my calling.
The swish-swish of the windshield wipers brought me back to the present. I had been blind-sided by the anger emanating from my sixteen year old in the dark, quiet car as we drove home from a restaurant.
As a family we had decided to dine out, on this Friday evening, prior to dropping off this son at a weekend retreat. He was allowed to choose the restaurant as we picked him up from his friend’s home. We arrived just prior to the busy dinner rush, obtaining a table quickly in a rapidly filling restaurant. But in the waiting area our son’s simmering anger bubbled to the surface.
He refused to order or eat. He was feeling the stress and pressure from his AP homework workload that he was unable to begin until his return on Sunday evening at 7 PM. He was due to be dropped off at 8PM on this rainy, Friday night and it was 6 PM. He was adamantly opposed to attending this church retreat; a requirement for his Confirmation in his Catholic faith, this upcoming May. To our server’s surprise, we cancelled our order and walked out of the restaurant. It was on the drive home that I cried.
The questions circled and spiraled as I stifled my sobs.
Am I pushing my son into a faith, knowing, that there is a 60% chance he will choose to leave it anyway? Am I wasting his time? The stats are that 40% of Catholic teens remain Catholics as adults.
My mind circled back…
When my hubs asked my mother for my hand, in marriage, she had only one request. We must marry in the Catholic church.
My husband was not brought up with religion but he acquiesced to her wishes. As we prepared for our wedding with a Pre Cana Catholic marriage counseling program, the first question the priest had asked, my then fiance, was if he believed in God. The silence had been deafening as my very, science-oriented partner, mulled this over for a a few minutes.
It had felt like hours as we waited uncomfortably for his reply. To my relief, he had finally answered yes and presented the priest with a list of thoughtful questions about Christianity and faith.
The priest had then asked us both if we would agree to raising any children we had, in Catholicism. To this, my future hubs instantaneously answered yes.
Guiding my sons, spiritually, is not an easy task in a world of distractions. When work, school or extra curricular activities get in the way, church or religious education is the first thing my hubs and sons want to take off our schedule. It is not a priority; mostly a chore. But once they are immersed in the environment, they are happy they went. But it is always a fight to get my hubs or older sons there.
Years ago, my hubs chose to serve as an usher in hospitality. He had been inspired when our young sons chose to become altar servers in 2010. But these seven years have changed their alacrity as hormones and life happens; distracting and pulling them away. When my son’s upcoming Confirmation ceremony conflicted with a mandatory jazz festival weekend, he angrily asked to move his his church obligation to choose jazz.
As a parent, I try to stay attuned to the pressures on teenagers today. I am not naive in thinking my sons will continue to choose the faith in which they were raised; or in any faith at all.
It is my obligation, as their parent, to guide them and expose them; to lay a foundation of values and morals so that my boys will have a code of ethics on being a responsible human being.
And sometimes, when these boundaries are questioned and resisted, it’s difficult. I had already felt the strain of the past week and this unexpected attack had been the last straw. Instead of arguing back, to defend, I quietly sat as the tears began to fall. This same fight has already begun in my middle son as he questions why we must have faith. Only my eleven year-old’s mind and heart remain open, still enjoying serving in our church and accepting blind belief versus science.
Where did I go wrong? I’ve done all the things I was supposed to?
Being a parent, sucks. I want the manual with the checklist that tells me that I am on the right path and am not overstepping my bounds. I want clear boundaries. But none of life is clear and my expectations of smooth sailing and perfect, complying children is a fallacy. I need to get over it and accept that life will always throw wrenches in my way and all I can do is give them my very best. I can’t make their choices for them and soon enough they will leave my nest.
All I can do is give them my very best.
I am currently reading the book, The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah and the line jumped out at me as I felt the adrenaline rush, my heart skipping a beat.
“What you don’t get right, you can always put right. Don’t be afraid to change your mind.”
And though I’m not sure how to put things right I know that I must be steadfast on this path. This had not been on my radar on my parenting checklist. I have been accustomed to my family accepting my beliefs. But it time to let this assumption go; to know that these boundaries must be crossed in order for my own sons to grow.
I must prepare myself to accept the choices my sons will make when they venture outside of the nest. The choices they will make will be their own.
I cannot base my parenting abilities solely on my sons’ choices. It is easy to judge, to blame the parents for the outcome of their children. But this is not fair. You cannot value a person’s life on their resume in black print. We must read between the lines in the white spaces and illustrations; the stories and memories that remain.
I shared with the sixth graders in my youngest son’s class how Egyptian pharaohs had artists draw happy illustrations of their lives on the frescoes of their pyramids and tombs; believing their ba and ka spirits would bring these pictorals to life after death. As the students boisterously created sarcophagi out of modeling clay, I pondered what stories would remain in my life’s book and what words would be shared in my obituary.
The things I hope to be remembered by are not tangible ones. They aren’t the numbers and formulas of science, the facts of history in what I did. I want to be remembered by the things intangible and immaterial; my love for my family and friends, my strong faith and ethics, my service to help others and my appreciation for the outdoors, art, history, literature and music.
I push my boundaries outwards; my barriers becoming porous as my mental alignment shifts. Life happens and I won’t always get it together. But I can always change my mental state to progress; to put it right.
In a distracted world, a nation divided, it was empowering to observe over a hundred teens pursuing their faith even when life happens. As we heard testimonials I realized I was surrounded by parents going through this same struggle.
On a cold rainy Sunday eve, in a church filled with teenagers returning from retreat; my sense of hope remained. I hope they continue to pursue…even when.