Parenting is a hard gig. From the sleepless nights of babyhood to the endless worries of the teenage years, being a parent always requires solving new and unexpected problems. For every one parenting success I celebrate, there are two more new challenges that take me back to feeling like a new parent again. Thank goodness for stacks of parenting books that help guide us through the different stages!
After surviving the high school years with two daughters, I am now learning to navigate the college years. Once past the emotionally wrenching parts of saying goodbye, getting used to them being away, and giving up your sense of control; you can see something that you haven't seen before--your actual young adult!
The high school years are so full and busy- practices, homework, clubs, hobbies, social outings, jobs, driving, college prep, and plenty of emotional and physical changes. It is sometimes all we can do to keep up with the day to day. Life becomes about "the schedule" and who needs to be where at what time, and who has eaten and who hasn't, and who needs to see which doctor, and who is currently having an emotional crisis and who is stable for the moment!
With the clock ticking down to college, it is easy to start seeing every misstep or perceived weakness in your child as something that needs to be "fixed" before they leave. During my daughters' junior years of high school, I distinctly remember thinking that I only had a year left to teach them everything they needed to know before they left home. No pressure there! By the time I dropped them off at college, I was keenly aware of everything I hadn't gotten to yet- my unfinished list of life skills and lessons was sure to cause them trouble. I had failed them. How were they going to survive away from home if I hadn't taught them everything?
This is a well-meaning, but misguided approach. Of course, I couldn't teach them everything they needed to know- that's not my job, and not possible, just for starters. The significant downside to this approach is that it sets up a dynamic of looking for the holes in their knowledge and experience and searching for their flaws in an effort to "fix them", and not always seeing and appreciating them just as they are.
Once my girls settled into college life, and I could finally see that they were ok; I started to relax a little. They were surviving, they were doing well in their classes, they knew how to manage themselves, they were responsible, they were willing to ask for help when they needed it (mostly). They figured out how to handle laundry and health issues, and airports and Ubers. The inevitable setbacks occurred and they bounced back. While they are still learning life lessons (just like I am) in addition to all that they learn in class, they are doing ok and making it through. And, what they don't know, they are figuring out!
So now, I am beginning to see the upside of this stage in parenting. Relieved of the daily burden of scheduling, feeding them, keeping them alive, and righting all of the perceived wrongs; I can finally see and appreciate my children for who they are becoming. It is a gift! On a recent trip, I was able to step back and really enjoy them as people. At 18 and 20, they didn't really need me to "manage" them, so I didn't (mostly :-)). The view was much different from that perspective!
What I saw were two developing adults who I could talk to and share things with. Two young women with specific interests of their own. Young women who knew how to be a good friend to others and who had good friends of their own. Capable, mature, kind, hard working. With my older daughter, we talked about current events and tried to solve a few world problems. We enjoyed discussing books we had read. We discussed possible next steps with her education and career. With my younger one, we shared our love of sun and warmth. We talked about food and cooking. We took a lot of pictures of dinner, sunset, and scenery and enjoyed sharing them with each other. Although still very much a parent/child relationship, it was clear that we had crossed into new territory where we could also relate on a new level. Not exactly friends, but friendlier and more relaxed.
While I know my parenting duties are far from over, I accept that the daily task of parenting has ended. New challenges await all of us. My role will (hopefully) shift to trusted advisor. My hope is that my children will continue to share their problems with us, as well as share any exciting new opportunities. While we will always be available to help them however we can, there is an increasing recognition that there are things that they will have to do on their own. Problems that will need to be solved, decisions that will have to be made, and issues that will require their focus alone. Even if I would like to solve every problem for them, it is not possible nor is it advisable.
But for today, I am...relieved, comforted, and cautiously optimistic that despite my lapses and my many misguided moments of parenting, my girls have made it to this point and they have become who they are. I am so thankful for who they have always been. Because for as much as I have tried to teach them over the years, they have always taught me way more! I'm looking forward to continuing to learn on this great journey of parenting.