Come the end of June I will have completed my fourth Leaving Cert – or at least that is how it feels. Our youngest, Diarmuid, is the one actually doing the exams but, as with his sisters before him, I feel like I am in there with him.
Plus, he is also doing the HPAT – the Health Professionals Aptitude Test – to apply for physiotherapy in Ulster University. So, I am there wondering if he is putting the work in, is he stressed about it, can he do any more to prepare?
I am also wondering at what point the loving, concerned mammy turns into the nagging parent? I haven’t asked Diarmuid that question because I may not like the answer!
It is a real challenge for parents, that balancing point between being involved and stepping back. We have to trust our adult children to take responsibility for their own choices but that isn’t easy.
My friends and I have talked more than once about the vulnerability of being a parent, how hard it is to navigate the world in which our children are adults. How do we empower our children to make good, life-giving choices? How do we as parents step back – and yet not walk away?
Today my daughter finished her exams. Yesterday she found out that she has a job interview tomorrow and has to prepare a 15-minute presentation for it. Apologies for the complicated time-line there but basically, she has just this afternoon to prepare for a really important interview. Quite understandably my daughter’s reaction is “I can’t do this. It is too much pressure, too little time.” I could have stepped back. I didn’t.
I reminded Deirbhile that this is the company she really wants to work for. I reminded her that she is good at presentations, that she interviews well, that even if the competition is really tough, she will be kicking herself if she doesn’t at least take the chance. Then I told her it was up to her, that she had to make the decision and live with it.
We all have days when we just want someone else to tell us what to do. Then if it all goes wrong at least we can say, “But she told me to!” It is a real challenge to make that decision and take responsibility for the consequences. There are times I would find it easier just to tell my kids what to do – but there is no growing up for them in that.
So, when there is a big decision to be made, I try to get them to explore what is influencing them. Are there fears or stresses clouding their judgement? Are they too concerned about what other people will think? I try to get them to dig deep, to remember what motivates them, to listen to what their heart and their gut are telling them. I sometimes suggest that they write lists – pros and cons for a particular choice. I ask them to pray, to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them.
We jump forward now to the morning of the interview. As I write Deirbhile is on the bus on the way to the company’s head office having spent hours putting together a presentation. Yesterday was difficult. She pushed me to make a decision for her. I pushed back and urged her to take responsibility whatever she decided. This morning, thank God, she is happy.
I feel as if, in order to be able to stand back, I need to teach my children the skills of discernment. They need to make decisions that come from the depth of their being, from a place of memory and strength underpinned by those vital gifts of the Spirit – wisdom, knowledge, right judgement, courage. Even then though, I may just feel the need to share my mammy-wisdom!