They are exasperating and exhausting. They make outrageous demands on us from the moment they are born – no, even before that! But most parents will say (and I would agree) that the experience of having children is so incredibly rewarding that they would choose to be parents again in a second. There is something about having children that gives us a sense of living on in this world, of truly making a difference. They give us a chance for a legacy.
We want to live on through our children, and often, we want to live through them as well. We want to see them succeed, to make less mistakes than we have, and to do more good with their lives than we have. But the truth is they are really not “our” children at all. They belong ultimately to God, and they are only “on loan” to us as parents.
I’ve been reading lots of articles lately about parenting; specifically, about learning to accept that our parenting style likely has little affect on how our children will turn out. (There’s an interesting one here.) Oh, of course we can and should do everything in our power to be caring, responsible parents. As Christians we have the added moral burden of instructing them in the Faith and in being the best examples we can. But many “experts” are saying there is really a lot to let go of. While most do tend to model after their parents in matters of religion and politics, pretty much everything else is up in the air. The bottom line is that our children (like us!) have free will and will certainly exercise it, and there is really not much we parents can do about it.
So do we throw up our hands and give up? Of course not. We keep doing our best, but we must learn to detach from our children. In the era of “attachment parenting,” that sounds radical. But it’s really the only way to love.
Our mission center director, Fr. Sergio, shared a story recently about how his mom reacted when he was leaving for the missions.
I dreaded the moment I would bid farewell to my parents. I hated to see my parents cry because of me. To my utter surprise, while my Dad became emotional, my Mom did not cry. Somebody had told her that “the mothers of missionaries do not cry.” I never suspected my Mom could be that strong!
It took some time for me to understand the meaning of Mom’s apparent hardness of heart. Well, of course it was none of that. Instead, she was telling me that she was with me in this exciting adventure of my missionary vocation.
She did not want to burden me with painful memories, just at the beginning of my missionary life. She did not want me to leave thinking that I was sort of a lost son, even though lost to the Lord. I knew she was about to burst in tears, but she did not. The mothers of missionaries do not cry because they – through God’s grace – share in their sons’ vocation.
I’m sure Mrs. Fossati’s heart was full of emotion that day, and that she certainly could have cried many tears. She was not hard-hearted. Rather, I think perhaps that she knew something about loving with detachment.
We are all called to this kind of love, this love that requires us to “let go” and acknowledge that our loved ones don’t really belong to us at all. Fr. Sergio is experiencing that himself right now – his mother passed away recently, and he is in Italy for her funeral. But as a missionary he has been trained in letting go – letting go of familiar home and culture, leaving family and friends behind.
Is there someone you need to “let go of” today? You can love them with all your heart, but still remember they have only been loaned to you for awhile. At least until we are all, God willing, reunited someday in our forever home, where we will never have to let go again.
A little girl taught me how to let go; she left me for Heaven five years ago today. You can read about her here.