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Becoming Small

There is beauty in learning to let go of your adult children.
By Barbara Rainey


My good friend, Jane Ann Smith, who also has six children and is about 10 years ahead of me in life’s journey, has given me lots of good advice over the years. Now in our empty nest years, I continue to learn from her.

When Susan Yates and I were writing our empty nest book, I e-mailed Jane for her thoughts on what she was learning in the empty nest. Her response was well thought out and, as always, very wise.

She wrote:

I had just survived a big conflict with one of my children and a friend told me that I needed to learn to become smaller in my family. I had become big in my family because my doctor husband had been gone a lot and my six children needed me. I had become a controller without even knowing when it happened.

Almost 45 years later, with all the children grown, I was still way too big in their lives. They still expected me to treat the wounds and fix broken things, and when I couldn’t, some of them resented it and me. And I couldn’t imagine not being a part of their lives.

As I prayed about how to do this "becoming smaller," God showed me that I didn’t need to talk so much. This may sound simple, but it wasn’t for me. I had always thought it was my duty to express my ideas on whatever subject was on the table and have the last word. Wasn’t I always the one who was older and had superior knowledge and experience?

As I’ve been practicing this I’ve learned that I can walk away from a complicated conversation and hardly be missed. Because I wasn’t a “big player,” I wasn’t crucial to the game and this felt good. I was establishing healthy emotional boundaries for myself rather than allowing myself to be drawn into the fray. Another thing I’m learning is that as I become smaller, my husband is becoming bigger, as he should. For all the years I was in control, he had often given up trying and just let me be the most important person in the children’s lives.

I realized that I had desperately wanted my children to see all that I had done and was doing for them. I wanted them to somehow affirm that I had done a good job and how could they if I stopped? I have much left to learn but I believe I am setting a better example now to my children of how to bow out gracefully as one day they will have to allow their children to emerge when they become adults.

These words from my friend were so good for me to hear when she sent them and they still are today. I so understand her desire for her kids to need her and to affirm her good work in their lives, and yet that is not something we can earn anymore.

As Dennis and I watch our children struggle with sibling relationships as adults, have surprisingly different opinions on how they should raise their children, and try to manage their own families and extended families, we too are learning we must become small. We cannot fix their relational issues. We can give advice when asked, but not unless we are asked. They are adults and have to figure this out. It’s hard to step back, but Jane Ann is right—it’s much healthier and, in the long run, much easier when we let go.

You’ll have a relationship with your children throughout their lives, but the rules will change as they reach adulthood. Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk about relating to your children once they leave the nest on FamilyLife Today®.


Copyright © 2011 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. 



Meet the Author: Barbara Rainey

Barbara Rainey is a wife, mother of six adult children (plus three sons-in-law and two daughters-in-law), and "Mimi" to nineteen grandchildren.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1971. Her husband, Dennis, whom she married in 1972, is the President of FamilyLife, a ministry of Cru that is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Barbara has published articles on family-related topics and is the author of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember and When Christmas Came.  She speaks at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences and is a frequent guest on FamilyLife Today®, a nationally syndicated, daily radio program.  She and Dennis are the coauthors of several books, including Growing a Spiritually Strong Family, Starting Your Marriage Right, Moments Together for Couples, The New Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem, Parenting Today’s Adolescent, Rekindling the Romance, and Moments with You. She co-authored A Mother’s Legacy with her daughter, Ashley Rainey Escue and joined Dennis and their children Rebecca and Samuel on the book So You’re About To Be A Teenager. Barbara has also co-authored Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest, with close friend Susan Yates, and A Symphony in the Dark, written with her daughter, Rebecca Rainey Mutz. And Barbara has written a series focusing on character traits for families, including the titles Growing Together in Gratitude, Growing Together in Courage, Growing Together in Forgiveness, and Growing Together in Truth.

Having faithfully served alongside Dennis for more than 30 years, both in ministry and at home, Barbara has recently launched a new endeavor called Ever Thine Home™.  This new line of products, including Christ centered ornaments for Christmas, teaching tools for Lent and Easter, and beautiful additions for your home for thanksgiving and year round makes it easy to express faith at home in a way that is both biblical and beautiful.  Her heart for Ever Thine Home is based on the familiar Old Testament instruction:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:9, ESV)

You can read more about Barbara’s work at EverThineHome.com.




Find online at: 

   @BarbaraRainey     facebook.com/raineybarbara


 

 

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