Parenting is a challenging, at times thankless job, but you’re not there to make life easier for your kids. Your job as a parent is to love them and prepare them to fly on their own. Love is a tricky concept, meaning different things to different people, but the big definition is that loving means placing the loved one’s needs at least as high as your own. So, parents are supposed to love their kids in this way–place kids needs at least as high as theirs.
Right there, you can run into a bunch of snags. Love doesn’t mean placing the kids’ needs higher than your own. That’s not good for you and both sets a bad example, as well as, giving kids an unreasonable expectation about how life works. Life is challenging and you have to work hard to get what you want. Kids need to know that.
Parenting is a daily job–all day, every day for a very long time. I wasn’t eager to sign on for this and comforted myself with the delusion that the kids would be on their own at age 18. I can hear you other parents laughing. I have one daughter in her medical residency and she’s now–she likes to remind me–on her own financially. The other daughter graduates with her doctorate in psychology this next weekend. She has a post-doc job lined up for next fall which will pay her enough to live on and give her the supervision and experience she needs to get fully licensed–on her own completely.
Let’s just say that neither of my children stopped needing support when they were eighteen.
As parents, we get the wonderful moments–my husband and I went through our family photos last night, pulling out photos of our graduating daughter to make a slide show for her graduation party. We found evidence of lots and lots of wonderful, joyful moments. She’s a beautiful girl and was a beautiful, expressive, wonderful child.
She also gave her father and I fits.
We parents also get the angry, rejecting child moments when our children grapple with the challenges of growing up. This doesn’t mean they don’t love us, but metaphorically running beside the bicycle as they learn to head off on their own–it can be tiring. So prepare your children. It’s in the nature of this world that you will not be with them always. Sooner or later, your kids need to fly on their own.
One of the smartest things my husband and I did was to teach our daughters to drive stick shift. I’ve always enjoyed sporty cars, but the bigger issue here was for them to be prepared. A girl I knew grew up to marry a guy and they had only one standard shift vehicle–which she could not drive. When my daughters’ got cars–for which they each paid half–they got manual transmission cars. They worked for others when they could grew old enough to legally do this.
Work helps us realize what we want in life. When my then thirteen year-old daughter worked with her dad on fixing the plumbing under an old building, she came home covered in mud. She stopped inside the kitchen door and said, “Well, now I know I do not want to be a plumber.”
Learning what career is preferred can be a hard road for some. Kids who start working early have a better chance of discovering the path they prefer. My mud-covered, non-plumber daughter stayed in school and is becoming an ER doctor.
As Mother’s Day approaches, lots of flowers will be bought. I was gifted with some myself. But we parents need to remember that our job is not only to tolerate the rough moments. We need to use these to help our kids realize they can handle the difficult stuff. We need to believe in them.
We need to keep them from running into traffic when they’re young, but we don’t need to shelter them from any reality they can handle. It’s not fair. Even though we want to remain ever-valuable and ever-important, we need to let ourselves become less important as they grow to adulthood.
I had a blinding moment of realization when my eldest daughter was very young. I sat with her on the carpeted floor in her bedroom and watched as she started to crawl–away from me. This is the job. We help them get stronger. We believe in them…and one day they’ll do great on their own.
That doesn’t mean our kids stop loving us, just because they stop needing us. I got a Mother’s Day gift from my daughters with a card that read “Thanks for choosing to be a parent.” They’re right. I did become a parent by very specific choice.
It’s all about love, in the biggest definition.