About three years ago, I had a wonderful conversation with Norman Fischer, a sixty-something Jewish Zen teacher and poet. I wanted to know how a parent can best advise her kids. Should I give an opinion, or only when asked? What if I think they're making a mistake and my advice would really help? What if I give advice and it's not the best advice for them? And how can you really know what's right for someone else? How do we ever really know what's right for ourselves?
Here's what Norman said, and I'm so glad I wrote it down.
Trust people to make their own mistakes.
Trust people to make their own decisions.
Take care of yourself in order to be present for others.
Whatever works is always changing.
I try to keep my opinions to myself, unless asked, and I had fabulous role models. Looking back I am so amazed at how much space and independence my parents gave me to learn from my own mistakes and successes. Trusting parents are real confidence builders.
Here's another nugget I recently came upon. It's from a column in the Washington Post written by Patricia Dalton, a Washington, DC clinical psychologist. She asks, "What if money really can't buy happiness?"
She sees the stressed-out kids and their stressed-out parents who are sure that the recipe for success is:
Get high SATs and a high GPA so you can go to an elite college so you will get a very good job (and perhaps find a partner with a comparable job) so you will make a lot of money and live happily ever after. The part that's never spoken - and would be disavowed if put into words - is that money will make you happy.
Dalton talks about the parents who make real sacrifices in an attempt to guarantee a perfect future for their children, "impoverishing themselves" to pay for expensive colleges. They claim they only want their kids to be happy and prosperous. To this, one young man said, "Who are they kidding? My mother is miserable and my dad works all the time." No child wants that kind of pressure. Who wants to be restricted to mom & dad's vision of success? I know I didn't when I was in my teens and twenties.
The best advice Dalton ever heard:
An older woman gave me some words of wisdom that have echoed in my mind every since. She raised a son and a daughter who are now both grown and gainfully employed. When they were in high school, she said that she had been fretting to her husband about their study habits and college prospects. He said to her, "Dear, just let them be. Let them land where they land." Now that's a concept.
And as for my kids, they're grown, gainfully employed, charting their own course, and in spite of me, they really have their heads screwed on straight. I love to ask them for advice. They know so much more than I ever will, at least about some things!