In a recent Wall Street Journal article, economist Charles Wheelan wrote about the things that he wished his commencement speaker had told him. Number 7 on the list of 10: “Your parents don’t want what is best for you.” Huh? You mean that after doing my best to protect my children from harm while giving them lots of opportunities to learn, I didn’t want what’s best for them?

Parents want what’s good, what’s safe, Wheelan wrote, but only you can choose what to risk for success and how to face self-doubt and failure. Only you can find your path, a process that usually starts by physically leaving home.

I remember being scared when I left for college, and excited, too. I couldn’t wait to test my wings! Why was I so  blind and ambivalent about that need in my children? Perhaps I was so busy being dutiful, prideful and anxious that I neglected to tell them, “I have accomplished my mission. Now fly and be free to conduct your own lives without me.” Without me, now there’s the rub. Was something else going on here, the empty nest syndrome or maybe my own dependencies and fears? Were my children’s Commencements Part I, Commencement Part II for me?

In his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally Really Grow Up, James Hollis wrote: “…the greatest burden the child must bear is the unlived life of the parents…” It is our duty to grow up, Hollis wrote, to face the inevitable anxieties and ambiguities of life. In order to find meaning, however, we must let go of scripts dictated by family, culture and accommodating patterns that we’ve adopted. “Second Half of Life” growing up involves a psychological leaving home, which reveals the difference between seeking knowledge and seeking wisdom. Beyond our social roles and pursuit of security and comfort, we discover humility, deep spiritual possibility and the world’s inscrutability.

Commencement Part II is an on-going process and the legacy that I hope to pass onto my children. Finding meaning in life requires that I really grow up and muster the courage and honesty to look at myself in the mirror and ask the hard questions, to suffer loss well and take responsibility for my choices.

What is good to tell my adult children? “The only approval you need is not mine but God’s, for ultimately we are all accountable to Him. Growing up is not self-indulgent; it is a gift – a gift to oneself and to others.

What is best for you?


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