When my kids were little, I have to confess that I thought I pretty much rocked the whole parenting thing. My kids sat still in the pediatrician's office -- at least for the first hour. They obediently held my hand all the way across the parking lot. And when one of them tried on the whole defiance thing, I moved in swiftly with strong parental authority, setting their little bottoms firmly down in a chair, telling them to sit there and think about it until I said they could get up. And nine times out of then, they did.
But then my kids grew up and became adults, and somehow I thought those same parenting skills would still work for me. I continued to believe this despite multiple failed attempts to make it work. You see, I understood that the stakes had just gotten so much higher. Making a toddler sit in a chair until they're willing to accept your rules may be exhausting, but sitting in a chair all night wondering where you almost-adult child is... that is terrifying.
I tried being the firm, disciplinarian with tough love consequences for daring to break one of my rules. I tried out a new tactic of giving the cold shoulder. I pointed out every wrong decision, lectured whenever possible and built up quite an impressive list of I-Told-You-So's. I was living by some set of rules that I thought I had to follow in order to be a good parent. I held strong, believing this was the only way to parent a child who was making choices I was sure would end badly.
And then one day my great-aunt, a sweet, quiet woman, pulled me aside. At the time, I had no idea it would be one of the last times I would talk to her. I am so grateful for what she shared, because it changed everything for me as a mother.
"Lisa," she said. "I've learned a lot in my years on this earth, and I feel compelled to give you some advice that I wish someone had told me when I was a younger mother."
Something in me bristled. I didn't want to hear that my parenting might be less than rockstar status.
"Right now -- where you are with your kids? This is the time in life when you just shut up and love them."
She had tears in her eyes. Her advice obviously came at great personal cost. Not a week later, my own mother gave me much the same advice.
I decided to swallow my pride, hang up my rockstar status for good and try something new.
Instead of pointing out the obvious, I shut up.
When I felt hurt, I shut up.
When I wanted to lecture, I shut up.
I just loved. Whatever the cost.
Here is what I learned:
Just because something works well for one stage of a relationship, it doesn't mean it will work for the next. Don't make rules that keep you in bondage. Be willing to hear hard truths and swallow your pride. If you want things to change, be willing to make the first move. It isn't anyone else's job to call you, reach out to you or make the first move. They don't owe you, even if you think they do. A child never learns a good lesson from a parent withholding love.
Sometimes, it really is the time to just shut up and love.