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Friday, October 13, 2006

My Lesson In Unconditional Love

Raising a child is a daunting, sometimes terrifying task that not everyone is capable of doing successfully. I admit I would not make a great parent. Mediocre at best, and that's on a good day. You would never find me coaching Little League, participating in community activities, creating arts and crafts, or running for president of the PTA or the Suburban Historical Society.

I guess you could say my household, if I had children, would be a cross between The Addams Family and The Osbournes. There'd be lots of love and creative expression, but little conformity.

A parent I'm not but an incredible uncle I am. I have a niece and a nephew I adore more than life itself. Because we live 3,300 miles apart our relationship is based on telephone conversations (sometimes many a week) and visits whenever possible. I'm west coast, they're east coast. I work very hard at being part of their lives and my reward is their love. Sometimes it overwhelms me.

What I've noticed is that as they're getting older (heading into those teen years) our conversations have become more grownup, sometimes touching on pertinent issues where the lines between right and wrong are blurred. To my surprise I've found we share differences of opinion. It's like we're from two totally different families, two totally different worlds.

I am liberal, outspoken, with a somewhat skewed sense of humor. I couldn't care less what people think of me. My niece and nephew are being raised in a more conservative environment. Our different ways of thinking have made me stop and wonder how to react to some of their comments without causing undue commotion.

As an example, I made an anti-war comment to my niece during one of our Saturday night conversations. Her reaction took me totally by surprise. She was appalled I felt the way I did. I didn't know what to say. I honored her opinion and I hoped that she would honor mine, but that wasn't the case. She refused to think my thoughts were valid.

I was torn. Should I insist she acknowledge my opinion and possibly create a rift with her and my brother or should I respect my brother's wishes and not interfere with his parenting and not interject my alternative views? With anyone else I would have turned it into a larger conversation, maybe even a healthy argument, but I refrained from saying anything more.

It’s not always about politics either. It’s other issues like watching too much television, eating unhealthy fast foods, and accepting people no matter who they are. How far can I go before I am crossing the line? My brother and his wife trust me completely with their children. I don't want to break that trust though I want to stay truthful to myself.

My niece and nephew are my family and as with all families having different opinions can cause major strife. I know people who no longer speak with family members over the most trivial issues. I do not want that to happen to us. They’re my brother's children and I certainly do not want to interfere with how he's raising them. The fact is he's doing an incredible job. They're well behaved, fun-loving, intelligent, kind hearted children. Am I being selfish for wanting them to understand my beliefs?

Friends give me lots of advice from "speak up" to "keep your mouth shut" to everything in between. I don't think there is a right answer here. All I can do is accept my niece and nephew's opinions. I might not understand why they believe what they do, but I need to honor it. Yes it can be frustrating but my love for them is too strong to let these differences put a wedge between us.

I have to remind myself that I am the uncle, not the parent. If they were my children would I want relatives undermining what I was teaching them? Probably not.

So I've decided to hold my tongue and not incite arguments, though I do look forward to the day when they enter their rebellious phase (maybe I'm still in mine). Until then with each conversation I am learning lessons of acceptance and love, unconditional love.

© 2006 MC528. All Rights Reserved.

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