The Gift of Independence

Many years ago I received the most wonderful gift- the gift of wings and the direction to fly free.  It came in the form of a letter my mother had written to her children.  Let me first say that these Dear Kids letters had become something we were accustomed to as we had gotten many over the years.  All of us went to boarding schools during high school and these letters were one of the ways my mom communicated with us.  She’d write one letter to all of us, make copies and send them out. (As a side note… getting mail at boarding school was a real highlight!) I don’t remember the content of even one of those letters. Our focus then was wondering which one of us got the original. But this one that came in 1986 was different.  It was my mother sharing herself with us in a way she had never done before, it was my mother giving me an incredible parenting tip even before I was a parent and it was a gift from the heart. My mother had very clearly given us our independence in the most supportive and loving way.  She had communicated to us that she was choosing to have a real relationship with us, one that allowed us to be who we were even when our choices didn’t align with hers or what she wanted for us.  It felt like unconditional love.  Here’s what she wrote:

Dear Paul, Margo, Gail, Jeff, Lisa & Tim,

Happy 4th of July. I know that the 4th is well past, however; I wanted to share with each of you the thoughts that went through my head early this morning as I read my Daily Affirmation for Adult Children of Alcoholics.*

We as parents do not intend to impose our ideals and beliefs on our children- at least not when they become adults, which you all long since are. Yes, in your formative years we do try and teach you standards of ethics and morals which, naturally, are what we believe. It is difficult to draw the line between the formative years and the rest of your lives, and I am sure that the line was transgressed more than once in both directions, and perhaps still is.  Please know that this is not my intent.

 The more I get into the Adult Children of Alcoholics for myself, and the more I hear from those of you who are looking and searching for yourselves, the more I realize how little “independence” you may have from me.

Several weeks after Mother died- or whenever those first days of ‘loneliness’ were over I felt “free” for the first time in my life. I felt that I was my own person. It was a good feeling. I realized then that unbeknownst to me, I had lived a life in my mother’s shadow- always hoping that what I did would meet with her approval.

I don’t want any of you to have to wait until I’m six feet under to get that good good feeling of independence and knowing that you are your own person.

I’m entitled to my own feelings. I may or may not like some of the choices that you make in your lives- but they are your lives and you are the ones that will have to live with your decisions- now and in the future.

So fly each of you- I give you your independence on this Day of Independence and know that as you fly in your freedom you have my love with you.



The six of us and my parents at their 50th Anniversary Gathering in 2001

I loved getting this letter. As my mother says I was trying to figure out who I was at the time. I always admired my mother. I loved how she related to people and I wanted very much to be like her. I was very aware of where I was falling short by my own assessment and was just beginning to understand that I was not meant to be her… I had to be me.  So, getting this letter was just further validation to the thoughts I was already having. I had to find my own path.

It’s been 23 years since I received this letter and while it was something that I cherished way back then, it is something that I have much more appreciation for now.  Being a mother myself, I have a new appreciation for the gift she gave us as I now know how difficult it is to “let go” of our children.  How incredibly hard it is to see them struggle and yet trust that just like we all have done, they will find their way.  And that way may look very different than what we have in mind.

I will say this… my mother lived up to her words.  And trust me, with the six of us (wild bunch that we were) keeping her promise was challenging at the very least.  My mother has often told me what a good mother she thinks I am.  So you see… I am a lot like her after all.

* Reading from Adult Children of Alcoholics that my mother refers to is posted in on under Free Articles – The Gift of Independence.