Don’t let the title confuse you. This post has nothing to do with alcohol and sobriety tests, although, trying to figure out what you can and cannot do as a parent may cause you to at least think about drinking.
Sometimes being a parent can tear you apart. In fact, sometimes the feelings associated with loving a child, even an adult one, can cause you just as much pain and suffering as the child is actually feeling. You want to help in any way that you can, but sometimes that’s not the right thing to do. Letting your children learn and grow on their own has to be one of the hardest things to do. The only task harder is finding the line between getting involved and mentally putting duct tape over your mouth so that you say and do things at the wrong times.
It wasn’t until I started thinking about this mental line that I realized there are a lot of phrases in English that have to do with a line. You can toe the line, hold the line, cross the line, and based on Johnny Cash’s song, walk the line. Each phrase has a slightly different meaning, but each one is a part of parenting.
For example, I will always hold the line when it comes to my children. I don’t think the urge to protect them ever goes away, regardless of their age; at least it hasn’t happened to me. My children, and I use the term loosely, are 25 and 21 and yet, whenever something challenging happens in their lives, especially when I feel they’re being treated unfairly, I want to jump in there and do something to make things better. This is my mama-bear syndrome, so my first instinct is to always cross the line. I don’t want to take the time to figure out how to walk the line between helping and hurting my children. As a mama bear, I just want to take a run (figuratively speaking) at the offending person to make them go away. As for coming up with ways for my children to toe the line, perhaps, the tables have turned. Far from giving my children chores as means to toe the line, I’m the one who has to show some restraint (my own version of toeing the line) to keep my relationship with my children healthy.
The problem is my children are adults and my definition of making life better may not be the same as theirs. How do I know when I’m crossing the line between helping and hurting? When do I let them do things on their own? How long do I wait before I offer my help, if I offer it at all? They are all tough and difficult questions. I certainly don’t have the answers.
I don’t know why this whole parent-child relationship thing is not listed as one of the great mysteries of all time. Many generations have referred to this mysterious line, yet the ability to find and understand the line (a constantly evolving one) between providing support and interfering has, even with a lot of research called trial and error, must surely require some kind of superhuman power. I’ve heard the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” People may mention flying, regeneration, or telepathy, but I’ve yet to hear someone say they wanted to know how to successfully deal with this mysterious line, but it’s the superpower we, as parents, probably need the most.
Depending on the phase of the moon, the situation, and the child/adult, one day what you do is acceptable and the next day you’ve over-stepped a boundary. I guess that’s why there isn’t a job description for being a parent. It’s not like math where you add two numbers together and you consistently come up with the same answer (unless math is not your strength). As a parent, sometimes you add two actions together and you get one result. Another time you add the same two actions together and you’re in the dog house. Apparently, being a parent is not an exact science.
In addition to understanding the line, there’s also the excitement of dealing with the emotions tied to that line. One minute you’re feeling indignation about how your child is being treated, and the next you’re feeling indignation because your child is not happy with you about what you did to fix, and again I use the term loosely, the situation. While children want to be independent you, well, want to be a parent.
The level of conflict (and indignation) varies by child, situation, and possibly distance from the parent. It’s a lot harder to take corrective action from a distance, but, fortunately, at least for the parent, the ability to give advice knows no bounds. Don’t get me wrong. I’m awesome, and I would never do anything to irritate my children. I’ve just heard stories from other parents.
The truth is that I’ve dabbled in crossing the line. Yes, I admit it. I’ve tried it. I’ve experienced the emotional turmoil of being able to empathize with my children and the corresponding turmoil of deciding what to do. Sometimes your decision works and the corresponding lovefest, at least on your side, makes all the other wrong decisions just a distant memory.
When your children, out of the blue, give you a hug, it means that you’ve figured out, at least a few times, how to walk the line. Sometimes, even without a full moon, you hear those magical words, “I love you” or “thanks”. You feel a sense of pride. You can identify with Johnny Cash’s song, “I Walk the Line,” when he says:
You've got a way to keep me on your side.
You give me cause for love that I can't hide.
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide.
Because you're mine, I walk the line.
Although Cash isn’t referring to his children, I can see how his words could be used to describe the relationship between a parent and child. The deep love parents feel for their children means being on their side no matter what happens and being overwhelmed (sometimes out of the blue) to the point of hugging them in public. I’d do anything possible to make my children happy; however, sometimes I have to take a minute to think about whether I’m walking the line or crossing the line. They say a mother’s greatest gift is love. The second greatest gift must be keeping that love (or at least the need to fix things) in check…at least enough to walk the line.
Over 30-years of writing experience, about 10 years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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