The Real Test for Parents?

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the New Jersey teen who tried to sue her parents after she, unhappy with the rules of her home, decided to move out and in with her boyfriend.
I have two daughters. One of whom is running toward pre-teen at breakneck speed. The other one is following everything the older one does. So naturally the description of the girl who lawyered-herself up was disturbing to me. Catholic school, cheerleader, good student, nice family, bad-boy boyfriend. Not that they were describing my girls. They were describing me at 17.
I’ve often looked back at the years of my life between the ages of 17 and 22 and realized there must have been an angel on my shoulder. It was probably all that praying my mother did. I was never a bad kid. But a few steps to the left here or a few to the right there, and things could have been MUCH different. Truthfully, not only am I lucky I escaped young adulthood with my life, it’s downright amazing I came away with no more than a broken heart.
All these things digested together give me a stomach ache. They also concern me about the randomness these days of raising girls.
Case in point. I know two young women, roughly the same age. Both come from middle to upper middle class families. Both sets of parents are wonderful, respectable people. Each did well in school, both attended very good schools in affluent districts and participated in extra-curricular activities. Both had/have friends and siblings.
Both girls went to college. I presume both had “fun” – it is college after all. One is a second year surgery resident, starting a period of medical research, and getting ready to marry another resident this spring.
The other, after changing majors from engineering to (I’m not kidding) wine/vintning, dropped out of school, moved in with a boyfriend. On one Christmas break, she surprised her mother with the news she had had an abortion. The next, she brought a small photo album of the child she gave up for adoption. She never completed a degree and is in financial straits.
When I think of these two ladies, I often wonder what the hot button was that triggered their futures. Was it something that could be foreseen? Is there a lesson here that will help me raise my girls? Do I even have a right to expect mine to achieve some standard of success that I think is appropriate? One that validates me as a parent over them as humans with choices?
One of my favorite passages in any book is the section in the Prophet by the remarkable Kahlil Gibran where he discusses parents and children. Gibran reminds us that our children are their own people. That our job is to safeguard them until they are ready for the world, or until the world is ready for them. Then it’s our job to stand back and see what happens. Wait for the results of our most important worldly test.
I’m a big believer in letting my kids make mistakes they’ll remember and learn from. Especially in cases where their father and I offer them advice to avoid the mistake, and they don’t take it. Within reason, of course. They are still young.
But I picture this day when I, like a mother bird nudging her young from the nest to fly, or like a parent letting go of that bike for the first time, release them into the world with my fingers crossed behind my back and a tear in my eye. And I’ll be hoping beyond all hope that they have that angel on their shoulder as well, guiding them from lawyers who tell them I still owe them and the myriad land mines and pitfalls of the first few steps into adulthood.
Like my mother, and I bet like New Jersey girl’s mother, and the mothers of those other two young ladies, I’ll continue praying that God’s paid the electric bill on those lights guiding the way to fulfillment.

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