Kite Flying

When I think about why people have children, I realize how little it should have to do with the future.  If, before any children are conceived, we knew that our reward for raising them would be perhaps several phone calls a month, a very occasional visit, and the sense of having once been important in their lives, we might not do it.  But if we realize that the rewards are given during the raising, we will calculate the cost differently.  My children have taught me more than I have taught them, given me more joy that I have given them, and their not being present or even much aware of me now does not alter this.   ~ from The Journal Keeper, by Phyllis Theroux

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 it is that you spend years preparing 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.  Finally, “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.”

Of course, by the time you get to this part of the poem, you’re choking back tears.  Even now, some 12 years later, I get teary eyed reading those last few words.

But then there’s the final sentence:

Only then do you know that you have 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 straighter, take a deep breath and move on.

Most of you know that my husband and I are only children, and in terms of feeling responsible for their parents’ happiness,  I think the burden on an only child is rather great.  My parents and my husband’s parents were as different as night and day in their child-rearing styles, but nevertheless, the outcome on each side was exactly the same.  Both of us always felt the need to be perfect, and to do whatever it took to make our parents happy, even if that meant subsuming what we desired for our own lives.  

So when we got 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 18 to go to college in Florida, traveled more than halfway around the world on several occasions,  met and married a young woman from a completely different culture.  He’s lived in Florida for the past 12 years, and is planning to move again – to Texas, this time, to embark upon another era in his life’s journey. 

As a matter of fact, sometimes I have to laugh at just how well we’ve succeeded in allowing him to soar.  I’m sure his trajectory simply boggles the minds of our parents, as well as other more conservative folks in our families, who probably always wondered 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 and 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 overly so),  and I  know that I will continue to become even more involved from now on as she draws nearer to the end of it,  and  it hurts sometimes to think I might never have that kind of relationship with my own child,  that I  may very well need to rely on the “kindness of strangers” to shepherd me through my later years. 

But, as Phyllis Theroux says in the passage quoted above ~”My children have taught me more than I have taught them, given me more joy that 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 one of life’s greatest experiences.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.



11 thoughts on “Kite Flying

  1. Oh, Becca. Wow. I’m an only child, too, so I can really relate. And I’ve thought about all those things– how I’m going to feel when my sons have lives of their own. I hope that in letting them go, they’ll still want to come home often, that their families will be a regular part of our lives. But I can’t guarantee it and I can’t control it. I, like you, wouldn’t miss this time for the world.

    • Our son is still a big part of our lives, and I think we are in his. But geographic distance just naturally limits the relationship to some degree, and it can’t be helped.

      So, yes, enjoy all these times with your two boys. Remember that even though it now feels like you don’t have enough hands to get everything done, it won’t be all that long before your hands are empty and idle (at least in terms of child care!)

  2. What a tremendous gift to parent, and be parented, this way. A friend once told me that a parent’s job is to work themselves out of a job.

  3. At the orientation for parents when my daughter left for college, the first words out of the College President’s mouth were: “You’re fired.” She’s home for the summer, planning her own excursions, at once fiercely independent and needing to “touch base.” She’s at the age for that. She’s also an “only” which, as you know, gives her both the benefit and the burden of all the attention. I hope, when the time comes, that her kite will soar into cloudless skies (don’t we all). But for now, is it okay if I sniffle a little bit into my pillow?

    • Ah yes, sniffle away 🙂 I still do on occasion!

      Your daughter sounds a lot like my son – “fiercely independent” indeed. I’m sure she will soar 🙂

  4. This was the most difficult part of parenting for me and I’m sure for many others – that “breaking away process.” I did adjust and I guess that’s the important thing. We do adjust, but it’s never quite the same again, nor is it meant to be. Like your son, mine lives far from us and is married to a young woman from a very different culture and he has traveled the globe to places H and I will never see. I once read a book that said that mothers talk to one another about every aspect of parenting but seldom do older mothers tell younger mothers about the challenges inherent in letting go. Great post, Becca.

    • Funny isn’t it, that we both have only sons who have so “successfully” flown the nest while we’ve hung around to end up take care of parents. Do you think it’s the difference in generations or the difference between boys and girls?

      Probably a little bit of both.

  5. wow, beautifully written

    I’m not a mom yet so I cannot imagine yet how it feels to let go of the cord. Right now I’m still on the other side and very often fed up on the (in my eyes) over involvement of my parents. Your point of view gives me also food for thought on how difficult it must be for them. Argh, such a difficult balance though (as surely my parent’s vision isn’t to let go of the kite free and alone 😉 ).

  6. Oh, Becca — this really touches me in so many ways. We are beginning to experience this — particularly with Rick’s oldest, who we expect to move to either NYC (our pref) or LA within the next few months. We worry of course (this kid is not God’s gift to organization or thinking ahead — like, how are you going to support yourself?), but know we have to let go. The kid who keeps losing his phone can be a little challenging. You suck it in and hope for the best!

    My parents were local and as an only, I took care of them both to the end. Rick’s live far away, one in Texas, one in N. Carolina — and I have often thought on how it must be hard for them at times to have their five boys so far away. It’s well worth turning our frustration with the kids inside out and wonder about them… Thanks. This is a lovely, beautifully written post and the link, quote are excellent.

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