Parenting is hard. If you are a parent then you understand that statement. If you are not a parent, like I was not at one time, you may think you understand that statement but the reality is, it is impossible to comprehend until you are actually in the thick of it. Parenting is hard for several reasons, some of which are the fact that it is physically draining, it is emotionally draining, it is financially draining, and these factors can continue indefinitely. There’s one more aspect to parenting that I could not have understood even when I was several years into the busyness. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to anticipate or comprehend it until the empty nest is upon you. The aspect I am referring to is the agony that comes with retrospect.
Have you ever thought about your childhood days? I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. These years were the beginning of video games, cable television, and the best music of any decade before or after. My days were filled with playing outside, school days where I received a real education–no common core crap in those days. I learned not only academics but also respect. Teachers back then actually were allowed to demand that respect. I learned that actions had consequences, both at school and at home. My parents didn’t make excuses for my bad behavior. I learned that bullies are real because kids can be mean. That has always, and will always, be the case no matter how many anti-bullying policies schools try to put into place. I learned that bad actions result in bad consequences–and those bad consequences were deserved. The inverse was true as well; good actions resulted in good consequences. If I failed a test, my parents did not go to the teacher and claim that her testing methods didn’t suit my learning style and because of that, it was her responsibility to allow me to retake the test in a way that would insure that I passed. Seriously? No, my mother would yell at me and take away television privileges until my grades improved. (Not that I ever failed a test. I was too much of a perfectionist for that. My brother, on the other hand…)
Why all the talk of my childhood in a parenting post?
Just as we sometimes look back on our childhood and young adulthood and remember the things we enjoyed and regret the actions we took that maybe put us behind somehow, a parent in the stage of parenting that I am in right now, does the same thing. My kids are all legal adults. Of the four of them, two are married. One is heading in that direction. One is still in college, living away from home. All have started to experience real adult world problems. When as children, one of them would come to me and say they did not understand how to solve a particular math problem, I would do my best to help them solve it and to know how to solve a similar problem on their own next time. If one came home crying and gingerly holding an arm, I would make sure he or she was taken to a doctor for the appropriate health care. (THAT happened many times in my parenting journey!) These were problems that a mom and/or dad were supposed to solve. I had the tools to solve them and I knew how to use those tools. I did not feel helpless staring at a fifth grade word problem.
Now, though, that is just not the case.
As adults, sometimes my kids face problems that I cannot solve. Sometimes those problems are brought on by their own actions and consequences must be faced. As a parent, those have been some of the darkest days of my life–feeling helpless as I waited for what was ahead. Sometimes those problems are because of the actions of others. Someone else makes a decision and the effects of it ripple into the life of one of my kids and I am unable to stop the ripple. Sometimes those problems are nobody’s fault–they are just the result of living in a fallen world where disease and pain do not discriminate among victims. Just as I do not possess the power to cure myself of my own health issues, I cannot take away the health issues my kids are facing. My son lives with autism that has made living on his own a challenge at times. My daughter deals with hypoglycemia and must stick herself with a needle multiple times a day to test her blood sugar.
Being the parent of adult children also means that often, I need to watch them make decisions that I know are not to their benefit. I no longer have the right to solve their problems the way I see fit. Instead, I have to allow them to solve those problems and deal with whatever consequences may come from their decision. This has been one of the hardest aspects of parenting for me. I am so thankful for what I am learning in a Bible study I am doing regarding our speech. On more than one occasion lately, I have found myself holding back what wanted to come out of my mouth, knowing that it would not be encouraging nor helpful in the situation.
One other aspect of parenting adult children, and probably one of the hardest for me, is the regret that daily plagues me. Did I do enough to teach them how to be productive adults? Did I love enough so they are loving? Did I allow consequences to teach them so they learned to take right actions? Having a grandson has made these questions all the more haunting to me. As I hold my grandson and read him a book, I wonder why, when my own kids were small, I was so concerned with the laundry that was piling up, the dirt that needed to be swept from the floor, and the dishes that were sitting in the sink desperately needing a wash. When he spends the night and he wakes up crying, I gently pick him up and rock him back to sleep, softly humming to him. I think back to when my own kids would wake up and I would be impatient with them, just wanting them to go back to sleep. I didn’t realize that one day I would miss those quiet moments in the night when my baby was comforted being held by mommy. Of course I knew the day would come when they would all grow up. Too often, I wished it would happen quicker. Then, they began to read and no longer wanted to sit and hear mommy read a story. Then, they turned into teenagers and sleep was all they did. (Except for one…) Then, they were all adults…
Now I can no longer fix all their problems, and even if I have that tool, often they don’t want me to use it. Instead, they want to handle things their way. And all I can do is stand back and watch and hope that the decision they made does not come back to bite them in the future. And I can pray. Pray that God, in His mercy, despite the fact that he or she pays little attention to the God who loves them, will help them make wise decisions and make beauty from their ashes when bad decisions result in difficult consequences
Now I know how my parents must have felt when at age 18, I was engaged to be married to a young man who loved me with all his heart but had no job. I know how they must have felt when as a twenty-one year old wife, I announced that they would soon be grandparents again. I know how they felt as they watched this young family struggle to keep heads above water. I know how they felt when we made decisions that they knew would come back to haunt us.
Parenting is hard. And it is forever. It doesn’t end at age 18 when the world says one is legally an adult. It changes into something that I could never have prepared for. I guess that is part of the game…just as nothing could have really prepared me for a baby, parenting adults has no handbook either. It is a “learn as you go” type of thing, and just like parenting little ones and teens, I make mistakes and have regrets. I hope when it’s all said and done, though, and I die, my kids will know how much I loved them and how I would have given my own life for them if that is what they needed.