Parental Woes: The Difficulty of Letting Go

By Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes

Our oldest boy turned 18 this year and life in the university beckons. It’s time for him to build the foundations that would define his future in his terms, or so we said. During his senior high school years, my wife and I were heavily involved in the process of helping him choose a major, patiently detailing for him the pros and cons of each course and the career spectrum that could open up to him – only to be flabbergasted that he had long made up his mind about what to take. That he actually had chosen his path without consulting Mom or Dad raised our eyebrows. We thought, “How can he possibly know what he really wants? He’s just a boy.” It was unimaginable, from our perspective, for him to decide on his own as he had always been tucked under our wings. We were typical Asian tiger parents who thought that the only way their son could succeed was if he followed to the letter all that we had laid out for him, breathing over his neck every step of the way just to make sure he doesn’t take the wrong fork in that road of life. What if he made the wrong decision? What if he stumbled? How could we have lived with ourselves if he dodged success?

No parent would like to see their children fail. Not to say that I as a child never did. As a matter of fact, I miscalculated my courses of action many times in the past and hitherto, I still do. To begin with, I wasn’t like the others who knew from the very beginning what they wanted to be. Graduating high school and entering college at 16 (schooled in the K-10 framework), I entered the tertiary phase of my education unsure of what I wanted to be, ambivalent about what profession to take. So I listened to Dad and Mom and took Computer Science. That was the wave of the future, they said.  I realized, however, that software programming and engineering was definitely not my line (although I immensely enjoyed Math, Calculus, Statistics, Linear Programming, and all of the other core Math subjects). I feared that it was already way too late into the ballgame for me to change my mind – a fortune had already been poured into four years’ worth of matriculation fees. I thought that maybe it would just be best to simply finish college and decide later on what exactly tickled my fancy; another course maybe? Who knew. Fast forward 30 years and countless missteps after, I would like to think that I survived that moment of cluelessness. I found my niche somehow though it did take quite some time and believe you me, a lot of heartaches.

In the interim, my parents must have been tormented with the choices I made, agitated by the possibility that I may have been drifting towards the sea of perpetual vacillation and irresolution. It must have been an eternity for them to wait for that epiphany to dawn on me and make me realize where I wanted to go. Just as I am now aware, parents believe that the failure of their children means failure for them as parents and as the incoming semester gets nearer and nearer by the day, I scare myself visualizing my son meandering aimlessly through college and through life just as my parents probably imagined I was. I definitely would be as upset as they were if I found out that my son would later on throw four years of an astounding university education everything into the air, waiting for serendipity to step in.

Perhaps it is instinct to worry much about our children and their future. After all, they’ve relied on us since birth. We bathed, fed, decided for them; nursed their wounds, guided them through the grueling reality of school work, shielded them from vicious souls – we did everything for them. Thus, when reckoning comes, we are then bombarded with doubts on whether our children could actually take on flight.

Should we be so doubtful? Everyone knows the answer to this perennial riddle and we all say it time and again: let them grow and make their own mistakes. Though when it is our children’s well-being on the line, we shed this dogma off our consciousness and shift to overprotective-parent mode.

Difficult as it is and as part of the hard lessons we learn throughout our lives therefore, we parents must also contend with the reality that our babies eventually morph into adults. Even if begrudgingly, we should accept that they will need to discover the world the way we did once, when we ourselves were young. Generations before now taunt me, in what is seemingly a rite of passage, reminding me how likewise anxious and jittery they were as we reached for our own stars. When we continually doubt that our children have taken into heart all that was taught to them, it does appear that we have lost faith in our efforts in molding new citizens of the world. And when we realize that the children we’ve raised are indeed capable, possibly even more than we are, of being responsible adults, the less time we have to worry about whether or not they would make the right decisions at every fork of their lives.


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