Right before my son’s senior year in high school, my friend Pat gave me a framed reprint of the poem titled “Children Are Like Kites.” You’ve probably seen it - the gist of is that you spend years prepping children to “get off the ground.” You run with them, patch them up when they’re torn, pick them up off the ground countless times. You let the string out a bit at a time, until finally they’re airborne. Then, “the kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and it will soar as it was meant to soar - free, and alone."
By the time you get to this part of the poem, you’re choking back tears. Even now, over a dozen years later, I get teary-eyed reading those last few words.
But then there’s the final sentence:
Only then do you know you’ve done your job.
I believe that’s true. It’s in the letting go that a parent really comes to know what they’re made of. And if you’ve done your job well, when you read that very last line, you’ll dry your tears, stand up a little bit straighter, take a deep breath, and carry on.
My husband and I are only children, and when it comes to feeling responsible for their parents' happiness, I think the burden on an only child is rather great. My parent’s and my husband’s parents were as different as night and day in their child-rearing styles, but the outcome on each side was exactly the same. Both of us always felt the need to be perfect and do whatever it took to make our parents happy, even if that meant subsuming what we desired for our own lives.
So when we married, we had an agreement. If/when we had children, we would not stand in their way, would not make them feel as if our lives depended on their constant presence, not make them feel guilty or worried about what we’d do without them.
In short, we’d let them break the kite string and soar.
We’ve tried really hard to do that, and I think we’ve succeeded pretty well. Our only son left home at age eighteen to go to college in Florida, traveled more than halfway around the world on several occasions, then met and married a young woman from a completely different culture. He’s lived in Florida for the past twelve years and is planning a move to Texas to embark upon another era in his life’s journey.
Sometimes I laugh at just how well we’ve succeeded in allowing him to soar. I’m sure his trajectory boggles the minds of our parents, as well as other more conservative folks in our families, who probably always wonder why in the world we let him do those things.
Make no mistake; there’s nothing easy about this process. There’s no magic pill you can take to stop missing your children, to keep your heart from aching when you’re apart on birthdays or holidays, to prevent you from wondering what they’re doing or how their day is going, if they’re in a bad mood or on top of the world. I’ve always been deeply involved in my own mother’s life (probably more than is good for me), and I know that I will become more involved from now on as she draws nearer to the end of it. It hurts to think I might never have that kind of relationship with my only child, that I may well need to depend on “the kindness of strangers” to shepherd me through my later years.
But, as writer Phyllis Theroux says: “My children have taught me more than I have taught them, given me more joy than I have given them, and their not being present or even much aware of me now does not alter this."
Watching those beautiful, strong, colorful kites waving proudly in the breeze is worth everything and is one of life’s greatest experiences.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.