Whose life are you painting?

October 13, 2009

It’s hard for some of us to pick up a palette, mix our colors and paint our life the way we want to.

No doubt: adult responsibilities can require us to defer gratification. And that’s a sign of maturity. We choose the job and family obligations in our life, and those things should be embraced and must be handled as priorities. Even when we’d rather be doing something else at any given moment.

But it’s important to remember that “to everything there is a season.”

If we’ve spent a lifetime giving more to others and less to ourselves, middle age is past time to take stock and decide how much more we are willing to give. How much longer will we give up ourselves? Are we willing to give up what we want forever?

Jobs can suck the life out of us. By this age, though, we’re making good money and are supporting a lifestyle. It’s hard to give up that security (if we have it). One day leads to another and pretty soon we find ourselves on the south side of 50, still waiting to do what we love.

It’s one thing to consciously choose it. To decide that our current job is providing all the goodies that come with self-actualization. If that’s the case–wonderful!

It’s another thing to wish we were doing something else.

Family matters are a little different. Parenting is the most important job, and a big one. Parents are obligated to devote the time it takes to raise them. It goes with the territory. And with any luck, the joys outweigh the challenges.

But, by the time the kids are college age, they’re adult and it really is time for them to make it on their own.

Even if they’ve made bad decisions. Adults learn by facing the consequences of their decisions. Their actions. I’m not talking about providing a security net. My parents provided one for me and I’m grateful.

I’m talking about giving adult kids the room to have their own triumphs and make their own mistakes.

Our generation of parents can be guilty of doing too much. And sacrificing ourselves to do it.

We mean well, but we can unknowingly hurt our kids. Because adult kids whose parents save them, cover for them, and don’t let them stand on their own two feet stay children forever. They never learn how to step up and take responsibility for themselves.

They don’t build resilience because someone’s always providing a soft landing. They don’t mature.

I’ve seen this and I know you’ve seen this. Because it’s very easy to identify when it’s going on in someone else’s family.

I’m not talking about parents providing food for their kids’ tables. Helping them survive.

I’m talking about parents that keep providing material things long after kids should be developing their own lives. Luxury items. When really, their kids would benefit from less of that and more responsibility for their own lives.

It’s hard to tell a parent their underachieving kids aren’t benefiting from that BMW he’s bought them. Or the cosmetic surgery. Or the down payment on a house for a kid in their early 20s.

These parents mean well. They’re just terribly misguided. And sometimes, their kids work them. Skillfully.

They keep making bad life decisions because they haven’t learned anything.

It’s easy for me to talk. I don’t have kids. But I’ve certainly had friends and partners who do. I’ve seen first-hand — with the insight of distance — the cause and effect some parents can’t see.

It’s pretty sad. And a little frightening.

So back to the painting. It’s helpful to take stock at this stage of life.

Are you letting your kids develop their own palette? Or are you painting their life for them?

And in the process, not painting your own life with a palette you like?

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