Last Friday as I was getting breakfast I was listening to the radio. They were playing the Friday StoryCorps segment. It was dedicated to Father's Day and the idea that being a father is much more than biology. The segment highlighted a couple who were foster parents. They described how they felt after the first child they fostered had to be returned to his parent. At first it was devastating to them. However, they learned something in the process. One of the dads stated, "I think in some ways, having to love someone and then give them up makes you less demanding of other people, just generally speaking. I think the other thing is being a foster parent made me want to be a foster parent even more. It’s hard to lose kids, that’s for sure. But I can do this, and I can help them."
The idea of loving someone and having to give him/her up really resonated with me. Isn't that we are told? "If you love something set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was." That expression can be thought to describe fatalism: if the fates determine a relationship is to be, it will be. Or, one can decided that relationships are all about free will. A true relationship is one that allows the other freedom.
In some ways, this dad seemed to imply that this ideology is only for the case of foster or "temporary" relationships. But can it also be true for those whom we love and lose to physical death or emotional distance? Is it true that if we love them we should also be willing to give them up?
I surmise that this dad recognizes that we have to enter into any relationship knowing that there is a risk involved. It may be painful, it may even be devastating but it is so worth it.
I liked his observation that the process of letting go helps us to be less demanding of people. I don't think that means that we are less involved or committed to our relationships rather we are more thoughtful. We know that there are risks to love and that we cannot hold any relationship too tightly. We need to hold them as if we were holding a precious Faberge egg: each is beautiful and unique but also fragile and vulnerable to pressure. We have to cradle the egg carefully because even our own handling may cause it to break. Sometimes our own demands and expectations of a relationship can be crushing. When we are less demanding we intentionally provide cushion space in those relationships. We can allow it to thrive.
What about you? How are your relationships? Are you too demanding? Expecting too much than humanly possible from another? How can you provide cushion space in your relationships? Does that mean giving time, trust, or permission to others? Allowing them the space to be whom they need to be? Is it allowing those we love to fail? Or risking that we might lose them?
In some sense we are all fostering relationships. We are all foster parents.