the genie in the lamp

Seems like every stage of parenthood is about growing and stretching and adapting. When you’ve got babies, a lot is physical.   Picking up, carrying, doing everything for this little one whose needs don’t know day or night. It is a precious and wonderful time, but oh, so tiring.

In the middle years there’s much teaching and learning, accompanied inevitably by challenging behavior, with the need for loving, creative and consistent consequences. During that phase of kids’ lives, it seems like I’m always thinking, scheming better ways to encourage kindness, right behavior and wise habits.

But now, with three of my children officially adults, I’m having to learn a new, less active style of parenting.  It’s less and less my job to be a problem-solver.  Instead I’m called upon to sit back, wait, watch, pray, hope.  To be available to give advice, but to wait til I am asked to give it.

Oh, this is hard for me!  Crazy-hard. Harder than getting up six times a night with a teeny one.  Harder than teaching a 6 year old to read. Harder than dealing with an ornery 13-year-old.  Harder even than riding with a brand new driver.  I’m a doer, you see.   A fixer.  A planner.  An ‘ideas’ girl.  A person who makes things happen.

This mothering transformation reminds me of a line from the movie Aladdin:  “Phenomenal cosmic power.   Itty bitty living space.”

The line refers to the genie in the lamp, of course.  Maybe I’m a narcissist — or a goofball– to draw a parallel there.   But as a mom of younger kids I’m used to occupying a large space in my kids’ lives.  With grown kids I’m realizing I need to stuff myself back in the lamp, to give my kids space to live life on their own, to wait til they call on me for help.

I tell them (only half-jokingly) that I’ll have this down pat by the time their 5-year-old sister is grown.   But now?   I stink at it.  Oh, there are times when I live at a loving, comfortable distance.  Other times I successfully fake composure by biting my tongue hard and smiling a lot.  But other times I just plain fail.  I’m all over decisions that should be theirs,  in their business, sure I’ve got a better plan of action.

Yeah, maybe I have reasons to want to step in.  Freedom to choose also means freedom to make mistakes, after all.  And sometimes I can see them coming.  But, hello!?  Who doesn’t make mistakes?  Mistakes are a part of life.

So lately I’ve found myself in this herky-lerky uncomfortable place, acknowledging the normalcy —  the necessity — of my shrinking role in their lives, but faltering at times in the execution of that new role.

I’ll get it eventually, I hope.  Thankfully my kids are smart and with-it and sensible.  They’re doing just fine at living their lives.  And they’re also pretty good at giving me grace along the way.  Which is good.

Because making that genie stay in the lamp until she’s needed? It’s not an easy task.

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  1. Ah, Mary…. I know just what you mean. Sometimes I tend to stay too far back, though, and then get yelled at for not stepping in or saying something earlier! As you say, we learn as we go, and waiting and watching and loviong from a distance is never going to be easy after all those years of “big parenting”!! My kids are older than yours, and they just grin and shake their heads now and then. Hopefully I am getting better at it all. heavn knows I should be – my oldest is 33!

  2. Ah, Mary…. I know just what you mean. Sometimes I tend to stay too far back, though, and then get yelled at for not stepping in or saying something earlier! As you say, we learn as we go, and waiting and watching and loviong from a distance is never going to be easy after all those years of “big parenting”!! My kids are older than yours, and they just grin and shake their heads now and then. Hopefully I am getting better at it all. Heaven knows I should be – my oldest is 33!

  3. I love [and appreciate!] your perspective so much, Mary!

    Steph

  4. Great post, Mary.
    I’m adjusting to the ornery 13 y/o scene, and finding it enough of a stretch! I had a friend with little ones over the other day and she was asking for my advice, and what I could tell her was so much wiser than I was back in the day.

  5. trixiefan says:

    I know exactly how you feel. My oldest daughter just got married last weekend. I so want to advise them and help them avoid the mistakes I know are coming, but I must make myself sit back and wait. Wait for them to come to me and ask for my help. It’s going to be very hard!

  6. Love the line from the movie – so true. My oldest is only 10 but I’ve watched my parents make this transition – mostly very well. Of course to hear my mom tell it since I was the strong willed child she did LOTS of holding back in my younger years. Now as an adult it’s not the advice or insight on the big things that drive me nuts its when she says stuff like “Don’t forget to wear your sunscreen” before we leave on vacation. Really mom? 🙂

  7. Melanie Roose says:

    Oh my Julie! That was me last week, asking my 20 yr. old as she leaves on a missions trip to China, ” Do you have your sunscreen?” It isn’t easy stepping back and letting them be the adults we know God wants them to be. This is a new area for me as she in on the West Coast in a great bible college, while we are on the east coast missing her, but knowing it is where God wants her to be. We still have a 15 and 13 yr old girls at home, it is daily prayer and asking God to give us wisdom.
    Mary, best of luck on all the wedding planning! Can’t wait to see the pics.

  8. Thank you Mary for this post.
    I prayed last night that God would send me encouragement today. I need all I can get. Today is my day to say good-bye to my first born. My only girl. She is packing up as I type and to say that I feel like I am crushed is am understatement. I knew this would be hard but…I had no idea it would be this hard. The lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes…
    I had no idea it would be so difficult to find this “new” mom in me. The one who has to step back, be quiet and wait. Wait for something. What am I waiting for? The beautiful new “adult” relationship that everyone says I am going to get. But still… I am mourning the loss of that old one. I am mourning the loss of having her here with all of us. I am mourning the loss of her childhood. This is a tough place. My heart is heavy.
    I love the analogy you used and I am working very hard at “stuffing” myself back in the bottle. But, my heart is so darn big it’s getting in the way! :o)
    I have been writing about it on my blog too and it helps to share my thoughts and feelings.
    Tell me this.
    Does it get easier? Because I have 3 more “babies” at home and Lord help me each time I have to go through this process.
    Thanks again for a beautiful post with God’s perfect timing for me.
    Kristin
    http://thissweetcountrylife.blogspot.com/2010/05/evolution.html

  9. This was so good Mary. I am already seeing this with my seven and nine year old. Making mistakes in relationships and navigating social situations has been something I’ve had to let them suffer the natural consequences of their actions. I can only imagine what ten years will bring.

    I soaked it in today. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  10. It never gets any easier. I now help to raise four of my grandchildren by taking care of them before and after school. I have to try so hard to bite my tongue when their parents (my “little ones”) are there and it is their turn to discipline them and I do not have a say. After all, don’t I do it all day??? Oh, no it’s not my turn. But look, they are doing it wrong……be quiet. Look, they are doing it better than you ever did. Would you look at that??

  11. Love your comments here. It is a tricky transition that (of course) I’m still learning about. When kids are little, you TEACH them that you’re the center of their universe, that you’ll always be there, that they can come to you, that they must listen to your voice above all others (except God’s). Love your Aladdin metaphor–I’m going to remember that one.

  12. I’m there with my oldest, too. She’s good at being a grown up but I’m still her mom and I still want to step in. She moved out, again!, last weekend, and this time it’s hard because we’ve gotten to such a great place in our relationship. But, sigh, this is what they are supposed to do, right? Grow up and leave?

  13. OH! Loving the $75 Family Feasts!

  14. I know what you mean I have a daughter who is 19 and on her own and a daughter who is 8. Trying to find that line between mom of an adult and mom who is used to parenting that child is very very difficult. And you just have to sit back and watch and be there when needed.

  15. Nat Alea from OK says:

    thanks so much for the posting and now I wish I had read your blog first thing in the morning, maybe it would have helped me bite my tongue with my 22 year old.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Mine are only almost-2 and still-in-the-womb, but I already know that I’ll have troubles with that part, which is why I’m already praying that God will help me to let go when AND as He wants me to do so.

  17. Very well said, Mary. (I’m not ready to get in that lamp yet!!!)

  18. That is one of my favorite movie quotes! LOL and I’m right there with you. My oldest turns 15 next week and my youngest is 3… I’m still learning how to make this Mom thing work 🙂 Right when I feel like I’m beginning to get a grip on one stage – God moves my children right on to the next one. Thanks for the laughs and encouragement.

  19. This was an exceptionally touching post. Thank you for putting into words how it feels to begin the letting go phase. My son is 19, in college but living at home, and my daughter is almost 18 and will be in the same situation this fall. I’m learning to abide in that cramped space, but often I expand into their space more than I should. Most of the time they smile and offer grace…but I do love the analogy and the comic quote. Kinda takes the edge off the hurt sometimes and makes us all laugh.

  20. Thanks for the ‘heads up’. I am almost at that stage and it is going to be hard for me too.

  21. A friend of mine has 12 kids, ages 8-25. She says that the younger years require a lot of PHYSICAL energy, and the teen/ young adult years require a lot of EMOTIONAL energy. And when you have both stages at the same time… well, your just plain exhausted! 🙂

  22. That is one of my favorite movie quotes! LOL and I’m right there with you. My oldest turns 15 next week and my youngest is 3… I’m still learning how to make this Mom thing work 🙂 Right when I feel like I’m beginning to get a grip on one stage – God moves my children right on to the next one. Thanks for the laughs and encouragement.