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A Parent’s New Year’s Resolution: I will love the child I have, not the one I want

By Lori Comallie-Caplan and Marc A. Caplan, PhD.

Matt, our 27-year-old son, came home for the holidays. What a wonderful time we had. He is intelligent, creative, generous, kind, and very, very funny. We are so blessed by this wonderful relationship. I do remember a time when I didn’t appreciate these qualities. I wanted more. You see, I was a straight “A,” perfectionist student who loved everything about school. I wanted this same path for my son. I dreamed of him being a straight “A” student who was on the honor roll, received scholarships, went to the best school, etc., etc., etc. It was apparent in elementary school that the “school thing” was not his thing. He lived to be on the stage, to make people laugh, to create works of art, and he excelled at it. Vera Nazarian (The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration) writes: “Love is made up of three unconditional properties in equal measure: 1. Acceptance, 2. Understanding, and 3. Appreciation. Remove any one of the three and the triangle falls apart.” The triangle represents the foundation of the relationship. I wasn’t doing a very good job of loving my son unconditionally. Our triangle had fallen apart.

My husband frequently counsels on parent/child relationships. He has interesting insights on this subject:

“I would imagine when each of us thinks about our partner, the person with whom we have decided to share our life with, what frequently comes to mind is a sense of togetherness. That is, a sense of being part of a couple. But, the equation remains out of balance if each member of the couple does not feel a sense of autonomy. This dualistic component of a relationship cannot exist unless each partner accepts the other for who he or she is. Acceptance becomes the food that feeds togetherness (the feeling of safety and security with the other) and feeds autonomy (the freedom to be who I am). Togetherness and autonomy form the foundation of trust.

Acceptance of our children for who they are, not for who we want them to be, is just as important a factor in our relationship with them as it is in our adult relationships. Acceptance cements the bond we have with our children (togetherness) while acceptance also supports their growing autonomy. A child feels secure experiencing a parent accepting them regardless of who they are.”

It is the right of the child to choose his or her own path. “Be involved in your children’s lives, but keep your own desires separate from those of your children. Allow your children to live their lives, and you live yours. Understand the importance of your relationship with your child, cherish and nurture it. Know that even though your efforts may not seem as though they are resulting in the changes you want, they are nevertheless important. Think of your parenting behaviors as a deposit in a bank. Every time you put a little more in, the total grows. Sometimes your investments grow rapidly; other times they grow slowly. But after a few years, there is generally a substantial amount that will be a legacy to your children that will make you feel pleased, satisfied and fulfilled.” (Webb, Gore, Amend, & DeVries, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, 2007, p. 248-249).

It may have taken me awhile, but I let go of the child I wanted, and loved, accepted and appreciated the child I had. In the end, my son followed his own path, and we were able to enjoy the journey with him. He is now a Financial Aid Officer with the Los Angeles Film School (three promotions in three years) and enrolled at Full Sail University, where he is earning his degree in Digital Cinematography. But most importantly, not only has he brought us great joy, his kind, generous, enthusiastic spirit has richly blessed all he has come into contact with through the years.

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