Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 542 Assist or Enable

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Many years ago on a cold winter day in Alaska my son asked me what he could do. I looked out the sliding glass doors and saw a great deal of snow and ice on the deck. I casually said, "you could clean all of that snow and ice off the deck". "How can I do that?" he asked. I responded with the usual. "I don't know. You'll just have to figure it out." He sat quiet a minute and then a few minutes later appeared in winter coat, stocking cap and mittens on the deck. He went to work. I don't really remember all of the tools he tried but he was out to the garage and back many times.  I tried to ignore his efforts on the surface but I kept steeling glances to appraise his mind at work. Of course, my goal was to get him to think for himself.

"You could mildew", I many times responded to my daughter when she would ask me what she could do. "Dad, what can I do?" she would plead. And my response, "You can do whatever you want to do. Or you could mildew". "Dad" would come her responding plea to my sick humor.  The goal was always the same.

Parents want their kids to learn to think. We want them to think for themselves. We want them to become independent. It isn't something with which we humans are born. We have to learn to take charge. We have to learn to think for ourselves. We have to learn to be ourselves.

At the same time we try to encourage independent thinking we try to teach our children to listen to our advice or directions. We do not trust to their thinking when it comes to staying out of a busy road or touching a hot stove, We also intrude on their independence by teaching sharing, compassion, empathy, trust and co-operation. There is no shortage of things we have to teach our children. We try to assist.

By the time we are grandparents or by the time we retire, our teaching days are behind us. Hopefully we have done our job and our own children are capable of thinking and doing for themselves. They understand the important social concepts we instilled at an early age. Then they have children and it is their turn.

We grandparents, we elders, pass on the responsibility of learning to another generation and hope for the best. We hope we have done our job in an effective fashion. One last challenge lies ahead. We have to let go. Of them and our grandchildren. Oh, of course we can tread lightly with the grandchildren but major teaching moments belong to the parents.

Saying we have to let go and letting go are two different things. It requires eternal effort and understanding. My mother use to say, "You never quit having children no matter their age. They are always your children". You love them and care what they do with their lives. And sometimes we want to help them more than we should.

Of course the process of letting go must start early in life if it is to be a successful transfer of independence. By this I mean that we can sometimes hoover a bit too closely. We become an enabler and rob the child of the rich rewards derived from failure and mistakes. We are encouraged to make ever experience positive. We love to praise and are reluctant to correct of admonish. It is always a tough call. It is easy to become over protective.

My wife's wise response to my concerns regarding problematic situations sticks in my mind, "Whose problem is it?"  I have to pull back and agree that, indeed, it is not my problem. I have to let go. This situation mirrors that popular cliche, "It's not all about you". In fact, most of the time it is not about "You - or me".

A good friend of mine has an attitude regarding his own adult children that I have heard often. He just tries to stay out of his own kids way. He likes to say, "They will figure it out". He practices what he preaches. He truly believes that the best thing he can do for his kids is to not interfere in their life problems.

Of course when our own children, no matter their age, have challenges we want to lend a hand if we can. This is where we have to walk softly. I could have helped engineer my son's efforts in his attack on snow and ice in Alaska. I could have taken more of an active role with my daughter wishes when she was just a young thing but I didn't. Perhaps this is just an admission of one more mistake I made in life. But I do think they learned to think for themselves.

Are we assisting or enabling? These dilemmas seem to appear and reappear in life. After careful consideration we can only do the best we know how.   We just never want to over look the 'careful consideration' part. But I have to comedown on the side of letting them figure it out. And perhaps even more importantly in letting them do it.

This is Retirement Talk.

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