Letting go

It might seem that my sister Chanel is the bane of my existence. When I speak of her, it is usually in reference to the span of time that she was pregnant at age 17, which collided with my second unfulfilled year of trying to conceive. The reality is that she is highly intelligent, articulate, and has a lot of potential; the trouble is that she doesn’t know it. This potential is being wasted away, atrophied by her fear of moving forward, up, and out. By moving out, I mean both figuratively and literally. She is nearly 26 years of age and though she has earned a Bachelor’s degree in a marketable and potentially lucrative field, she has yet to put it to use with a career or even actively looked for employment. Even the job offers that fell into her lap – which ranged from technical college instructor to convenience store cashier – she let slide to the floor with slippery excuses that were lubricated by her fear of independence. Nearly a year ago, Frank and I accepted guardianship of my eight year old nephew TJ after Chanel announced, in a family meeting at my kitchen table, her plans to move to an unfamiliar city three hours north of here. In her heart of hearts, she knew that at least for the time being and possibly for longer, she could not be the mother that TJ deserved to have. Her inability to turn decisions into actions did not hinder her from doing what was best for her son.

However, this tendency to inaction has left her here, still in my mother’s apartment with half-packed boxes from the relocation that never came to fruition. She’s unmoved, unemployed, and unable to make steps towards starting her life. Over the years, I’ve felt that my mother might have been too easy on Chanel, too quick to accept her excuses as valid reasons, or waiting too long to give ultimatums, or giving ultimatums with either distant deadlines or soft consequences. It seemed to me that by continuing to offer options which extended the length of time Chanel could continue to be dependent on her, my mother was exacerbating the problem through enabling.  Usually I say nothing and keep my opinions to myself, feeling both that it is not my place to do so, and also because Mom is Mom. Obviously, I have long to go before I have garnered as much parenting wisdom and experience as she has. As Chanel’s sister and my mother’s daughter, it is easy to be critical
of my mother and become frustrated with some of the decisions she made
regarding the situation. But when I change my angle and view those decisions as ones made by a mother and not my mother, I see that we are equals. We’re just mothers who don’t always have the answers and when faced with challenges, we make the best decisions we can and hope for the best. That’s all anyone can do in any given situation. We may not get the desired outcomes, but that does not necessarily mean that the choices were wrong. The time for ultimatums with heavy consequences has come, and as much as it will hurt Chanel, it will hurt mom worse.

Yesterday I found the blog of a non-IF mother who chose to build her family through transracial adoption from Haiti at the same time she and her husband were trying to conceive. From what I have read of her blog and from the couple of email exchanges I have had with her thus far, she loves her children fiercely, is a kind and gentle soul, generous, and a strong, outspoken voice for adoption. Her post about her greatest challenge that she has faced as a new mother rocked me to my core.Exactly one year from the birth of their son, they adopted their second and third children – a five year old son and a fourteen month old daughter. What began as a time filled with sunlight and the promise of a bright future, quickly turned to dark days of despair, helplessness, and fear of failure. In Anymommy’s own words:

We read about ‘older child adoption.’ We talked to our social worker.
We thought we understood the challenges and pitfalls. We heard words
like reactive attachment disorder and post traumatic stress disorder
and post-institutionalized behaviors and we thought, naively,
optimistically, tragically, that we could handle it. The deep truth,
though, is that, like birth defects, like miscarriage, like fatal
accidents, we never considered that these lurking horrors would apply
to us. We had a dream and a plan for our family…

Dreams end. Hearts break. On another beautiful, sunny day in June, just
a little over eight months after we brought him home, our son left our
lives as simply as he had entered them. He waited for his ‘new parents’
on our front porch with the same eager anticipation that we had seen in
his eyes when we walked into the orphanage and met him for the first
time. My brain desperately repeated the attachment facts, but my heart
broke for the millionth time when he walked away with them without
looking back.

As I read the entire heartwrenching and honest post, I felt my own heart breaking as tears welled into my eyes.

Once they become ours – whichever way they become ours – we are inundated with the prewired urge to latch on to our children tightly and not let them go until they are ready to take wing and fly without our protective hands clasped over theirs. Anything else feels like a gross contradiction, like reaching in and ripping out the part of your soul that yearns to hold them close. Sometimes, though, the best way to love our children is to let them go.

7 thoughts on “Letting go”

  1. Thank you so much for your words and for taking the time to read that post. Even three years later, understanding instead of judgment takes my breath away. Letting him go to a family that could meet his needs is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever faced, even knowing it was the right decision for all of our children. Your closing paragraph brought tears to my eyes.
    I hope your mom finds the strength she needs and your sister hears her and makes the changes she needs.
    (my first comment, but not my last, finally delurked!)

  2. Wow I linked and had the same feeling as you. As a mother you do have to make difficult decisions….sometimes ones that break your heart into a million pieces for the sake of a child. About Chanel, you love her…she’s your sister and bravo to you and frank for loving TJ as your own. I hope she soon realizes all that she has.

  3. Whew-what a post. I cannot respond as a mother, but my heart echoes your words and this story. I wish your sister the strength she needs to realize her potential. And I commend you for being loving and supporting, even though it can be so hard to see where she is going.

  4. kymberli, I love the parallels of letting go to give the child what he needs. I hope your sister finds her path. as for your mom, it’s easy to find fault in someone’s seemingly enabling behavior. it’s much harder to be in that position yourself. great post.
    thank you so much for sharing anymommy’s story. what a challenging life experience for everyone involved. for anyone else who is interested, the author also has a wonderful letter she posted in response to an article in parenting magazine about adoption:

  5. Chanel sounds a bit like my half-sister, who, at the age of 32 is still completely financially dependent on her parents and has never had a real job in her entire life.

  6. Hi,
    I saw your post on Lisa’s blog about surrogracy in India. We currently have a surrogate who is 25 weeks pregnant in India, and we are using Dr. Patel. You are welcome to share my e-mail address with your friend, should she have any questions.

  7. De-lurking to comment. I also am not a mother but this hit home in two ways with my half siblings. My brother and i share a mom and she has always given a little extra, done a little more and maybe loved him a little more. Her giving in to him has led him straight out of her arms and to his father’s house because he became so unruly and aggressive when told no. He started getting high, starting fights, skipping school—you know the usual teenage rebellion stuff. He should have graduated HS this year but didn’t because now no one can tell the “grown” 18 yr old what to do. He only had 4 credits left to finish. My mom tries to keep in touch but has had to let him go and let him learn on his own the hard way.
    Now my sister shares a dad with me. She was raised as an only child and her mom spoiled her. In ways she is just like my brother (smart but lacking common sense). She’s 28 and has two boys 9 and 5. She has a BS but cant find a job in her field or cant keep one. Where she lives she has the resources available to her to get on her feet and for awhile she does well. she moves out, gets a cheap car, and works. Then a few mths later she’s out of work, the car breaks down, she’s behind on rent, and ends up back home with mommy. my dad doesnt work and that another story so no one can really bail her out. her mom just keeps opening that door and letting her waste her education. i live too far away to take my nephews but i think about their future. i hope when i finish nursing school i can provide for their college education as well as my future kids. i think its selfish of my sister to squander her abilities when she has kids. not that your sister is selfish but at this point my sister is milking it. my own lived at home till she was 34 only bc my grandmother had a stroke that left her in a rehab facility. some people are meant to spread their wings and others are comfy right where they are. your sister will leave the nest when she’s ready. maybe she needs the hard push or maybe she needs that extra time because she lost a little bit of her youth becoming a teen mom…who knows. but i wish your family the best. maybe my own siblings will find their path soon.

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