When our children are young, parenting seems so difficult sometimes. Deciphering each cry our baby makes– hunger? dirty diaper? pain?– is a tough task sometimes, but we get through that stage and move on to the next. Toddlerhood is another hard one. What makes this child tick? How do I discipline her? Tantrums can be commonplace, and then there is the question of whether or not our child is reaching milestones in development. Young children in all their energy are perplexing; we are often unaware of their real needs and we feel every step may be wrong and we are causing irreparable emotional damage if we don’t act or react in just the right way. Pre-teens are hormonal crazed creatures who leech our confidence and ability to be rational. Teenagers (my personal favorite) are in a state of flux and uncertainty; they are searching for the place God has meant for them; they are egocentric, yet giving and social beings. This stage is a whirlwind of yet more hormones when we as parents have lost any credibility our children may perceived in us. In other words, “You know nothing, Jon Snow!”
If we survive all I have described, and yes, we most likely will, we have created novice adults. This may be the toughest stage of all. The biggest question is: how do we fit into our children’s lives now?
The most daunting aspect of this stage is the lack of control. We no longer matter the way we once did. Everything about this is terrifying and dejecting to parents, and believe it or not, to our kids as well. I will speak to my own experience and what challenges I have found in our lives.
My children are 19, 17, and 9. Like any “good Catholic couple,” our kids came to us in God’s time and we were blessed with two boys and a girl. We have survived the first year of adulthood with our eldest, with– what I would like to imagine– flying colors, but in reality was really by the skin of our teeth, because of all the emotions that whirled around us.
The first step was the eighteenth birthday in the spring. I took my son to the dentist the day after his birthday. I was ready, pen in hand, to sign documentation and listen to the dentist describe the procedure for the visit. But instead, all words were directed to HIM, not ME. The clipboard with all pertinent paperwork to be signed was slid across the desk, not to ME, but rather to HIM. I no longer had any say. This was shocking and depressing in some strange way; I hung my head, listened, and looked up at my 6’2” son, who then instantaneously became a MAN. He doesn’t need me anymore; I have lost that identity as his support and security. These feelings are devastating and actually a little dramatic in some ways, as I will always have a special relationship with him and he will always need me, just not in the same ways as before.
The summer after graduation, my husband and I had a conversation about what our role now was. Could we tell him when he could go out and what time to be home? Could we expect the same contributions from him in the way of chores and family commitments? To be honest, we over thought this a bit. Not much really changed. He still did the stuff around the house he already had been doing; he went to Mass with us as a family early Sunday mornings; he asked us if he could go places with his friends but never went overboard and always came home at a reasonable time. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is easy.” However, things did change once fall rolled around.
My son is attending a university out of state. The trip to move him into his dorm was wrought with emotion, for all of us. When I thought about my baby boy no longer waking up in our house, it brought me to tears. When I imagined all his newfound freedom, though I trusted him, I was terrified. It helped to see the space he would occupy and I repeated to myself, “I raised him to be a man. I raised him to be independent. I raised him to have an adventure. And above all, I raised him to trust in God.” If he is and does these things or not, I have myself to credit or to blame. His emotions entailed “What now?” There was some moodiness in him which I clearly understood to be uncertainty. He wants to do and be all the things I mentioned before, but hopefully he knows that trusting in God is the most important of all. He is also learning to trust himself with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, but aren’t we all?
Here it is, the summer after the year of independence. He has a couple of jobs and is at work a lot of the time. He comes and goes as he pleases, but is considerate enough to let us know where he is, who he is with, and the approximate time he will be home. We stressed to him how knowing that information was not a means of control, but rather the consideration you offer to anyone you are living with. It truly is a balancing act between not being controlling and still allowing him his autonomy. So far, so good, but I also realize that this may, or may not be, the last summer he will live with us. This too brings me to tears, but I again repeat those words: “I raised him…”
I know that I may not get so lucky with my next two, but at least I am aware of the emotions that are coming and the reactions to these situations. Now, I have to take a deep breath and get ready to do this yet again next year.
I will be adding to this in the next several years when my children have become full-fledged adults and I have to give my children to their spouses—more tears. I am sure many of you reading this have already reached this juncture and will have great advice for me.