“When you parent you fall in love with a person who is always changing into someone else, and who you know will leave you,” writes one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Lesser.
Isn’t it so.
My children are 4 and 1, and while there are days I wish I could hit the fast-forward button to the years of greater independence, I’m nostalgically aware that the days are long but the years are short. Few things are so capable of reducing me to a puddle of mush than the prospect of my babies growing up.
But it’s one of the most important tasks we have as parents. Here are some thoughts on making the journey fulfilling, and yes, bearable!
My father always used the roots and wings saying to describe how he viewed his role as a parent. Remember that while the wings part conjures up an act of separation, of flying away from the next, the roots part is permanent. The roots you give your children live on every day – in their values, in their choices, and perhaps in how they raise their own children, if they have them. Tradition is a wonderful way to make the “roots” tangible. In our house, I still refer to spaghetti as “fuzzy daddy” because that’s what we called it in my own house growing up, since the pasta reminded me of my dad’s hairy chest!
Whether your kids move out at 18 or spend another 10 years living in your basement, parenting is a job you sign up for with no termination date as long as you’re on this earth. Your adult children still need you. They need to know you’re still rooting for them from the sidelines, that you still love them unconditionally, and that you can explain to them the difference between an IRA and a 401(k), since I still get confused.
Your kids reinvent themselves so often with each developmental stage that it’s easy to forget you need to as well. Plan for your OWN changing identity as you transition from the diaper phase to the PTO phase to the high school football phase to the college applications to the empty nest. Speaking of which, instead of labeling yourself an empty nester, which suggests a lacking, think of the things you want to fill your life with in this new stage that were not possible before: Volunteer work? Education? An artistic passion?
What?? The Amish have a cultural practice called Rumspringa wherein teenagers upon turning 16 are encouraged to experiment and explore, after which time they can decide to “return” to the church and its traditional practices, or not. I’m of the mindset that this thinking – the concept of allowing our children the freedom to explore ideas different than our own – should always be present (with age-appropriate guardrails in place). If they embrace beliefs similar to yours as adults, it will be with a deeper commitment, and if they don’t, take pride in the fact that you’ve allowed your child to become a full-fledged adult with everything that entails.
Here’s to roots and wings.
Now pardon me while I grab a Kleenex.