“Don’t be afraid of change. You may lose something good, but you may gain something better.” Unknown
Making a life-changing decision is seldom simple. It’s not as stark as choosing between black and white. Our palette is usually somewhere on a spectrum in a myriad of gray. There are rarely win-win solutions. That’s a myth. Too often there’s a price to pay, a sacrifice to make, or a disappointment to swallow. Sometimes there are no good options, only the lesser of evils.
If other people are involved in the decision, feelings of love, loyalty, respect, anger, hurt, shame, and guilt complicate the process. What’s right or best for the decision maker, may not be what’s best for others who are nonetheless affected by the decision that is rendered.
Making decisions can be a painstaking and grueling process. Some people like to make lists with positive and negative columns or seek counsel from family, friends, mentors, or a therapist. Others seek out a professional that can callously erase emotion and provide advice based strictly on data? That seems a bit harsh.
I guess the process we use generally depends on the topic and parameters of the decision we have to make. Business is one thing. Decisions involving family, friends, and ourselves are often extraordinarily complex. Those choices can leave us breathless, struggling for air. Why? Because decisions have consequences, some of which we might anticipate in advance while others blindside us after the fact.
Contrary to what we might think, decisions are never right or wrong, good or bad. That kind of judgment is a gross oversimplification. Decisions are nuanced, layered, multidimensional, and sometimes bittersweet.
Like you, I’ve made lots of decisions over the course of my lifetime. Some were based on pure gut instinct. Other decisions required meticulous research, analysis, counsel, and deep thought, which sometimes ate away at my psyche and interrupted my sleep.
Recently I’ve made an important life decision that will require me to move to a different part of the country and step way outside my comfort zone. I’ve decided to go to Graduate School and launch a second career for which I have discovered boundless passion. If all goes well I will become a licensed psychotherapist at some point in the not-too-distant future. And that anticipation is wonderfully exciting for me. How does that make you feel? (Haha. Just practicing!)
During my back-and-forth deliberations, I sought advice from people I trust to tell me the truth, not what they think I want to hear. Their support for my decision is unanimous, which is encouraging but doesn’t mitigate my nagging doubt, guilt, or pain.
You see in order to follow this newfound dream, I am moving away from my oldest son and his family. I moved to them eight months ago to help care for my two pre-school aged granddaughters while my son and his wife navigate their hectic careers. In the interim, those two little sweethearts and I have become joined at the hip.
Yes, it can be a challenge caring for two kids under the age of five for any extended period of time. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting.
But I love those girls with every ounce of my being and they love me unconditionally — well almost unconditionally. I say almost because I have spoiled them slightly and they have now placed some expectations on our relationship, which includes but is not limited to trips to the playground and Chuck E. Cheese; culinary expeditions to McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and McAlister’s; playing Barbie’s, coloring, reading books, etc. Their wishes are my command.
And the very best feeling is when one (or both) of them are tired, sit on my lap, and snuggle with their daddy’s daddy. They feel safe and loved and happy, and the feeling is mutual. The love that emanates from their radiant little hearts becomes like a warm woolen blanket that envelopes me on a cold winter day.
I’m grateful they come to me for comfort after each skinned knee or bumped head. Their hugs and kisses are pure magic. They also recognize and acknowledge my presence in their lives with words: “I love you with my whole heart. I want you to stay here forever.” Wow! Cue the feelings of guilt.
And, even though I don’t see him as often as I’d like, I’ll miss my son a great deal too. We have shared some precious time together and I’m so glad I’ve been able to be here for him.
So, why leave? The truth is, as wonderful and incredibly life-giving as this time with my son and his family is, it’s not enough. I need to be more than a babysitter. I need to have adult conversations, to be stimulated and challenged intellectually, to learn, to matter, to have a purpose, to find a new path, to create a future, to do something with the rest of my life. Yes, I do feel like I matter, am valued, and have purpose when I’m taking care of my grandchildren, but still, I need more.
Oh, how the guilt drips from my brow as I write these words. I should be better, more giving, sacrifice more, be there 24/7 for my son and his family. But I don’t want to feel like a martyr. Countless mothers and fathers feel the same way when they leave a child and return to the workplace. It sucks. But such is the dance of life.
I’ve been afforded a rare opportunity which I must embrace. It feels right. I’ve worked too hard and come too far to pass this by. Hell, I’m 64 years old. It’s not like I can wait another four or five years to begin my quest. I prefer to practice my new craft while I’m still alive.
No, I don’t think it’s moving to Chicago, enrolling in grad school, and/or launching a second career that has stirred this tempest of anxiety within me. The root cause of my anguish is the family this transition will impact.
I do firmly believe they’ll be just fine without me. They were before and they will be again. Yes, my son and his wife will have to become more organized and communicative. They’ll have to prioritize, establish boundaries, and, make sacrifices and hard choices. That’s parenting. It’s not for the faint of heart.
But, they are wonderful parents and people; smart, full of love, energy, and wisdom beyond their years. They’ll just need to figure out the details. They can do that.
My granddaughters and I will yearn for each other for a time, but we’ll adjust in due course. We’ll talk often on FaceTime — until they become distracted by a TV show or something else. And I’ll come to visit them every couple of months so we can play, eat, read, sing, watch TV, talk, and snuggle.
Does it seem like I’m rationalizing? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’ve asked myself dozens of times if the decision I’ve made is selfish. I can make an argument that it is. But I can also make an argument that I’m doing what’s best and right for me at this time in my life. The one thing I am certain of is that this decision was not made in haste.
I guess if I must answer the question I posed, I will say no, I don’t believe my decision is selfish. What it is is vulnerable, brave, and heartful. I’m moving forward so I can help people, including my family and myself.
Is it hypocritical to say how important family is to me while I prepare to load the moving van? The truth is that had I been able to go to school in the city where my son and his family live I would have, but it didn’t work out. So, while I am moving away from one of my sons, my daughter lives in the city I’m moving to. And I’m very much looking forward to spending more time with her. So, family did indeed play a prominent role in my decision. I guess a critic could say that now I’m being defensive and trying to justify my decision. Damn, this is hard.
Yes, this has been an agonizing, grueling decision. But the verdict is in and it’s incumbent on me to now look forward, not back. I’m making this move to do something important, that I think will make my granddaughters proud. I want them to know it’s okay to take a calculated risk and do something you believe in. It’s okay to follow your heart even when it strays geographically from people you love so dearly.