As I hung up the phone from talking to my eldest daughter away at college, I chuckled at her latest life dilemma that requires my parental guidance and constructive feedback. Between her and her 20 year old brother, the parent they need my husband and me to be is the same one who has to also deal with the trials and tribulations of three second graders on a daily basis. This got me thinking. What type of parent would I need to be when my kids are 25 or 30 years old or, for that matter -- my age, compared to the kind of parent I need to be now? Would I ever be able to stop being a parent? My mom still acts like my parent, finding this and picking up an extra one of that, as if I can’t fend for myself. Face it, parenting is a life long job and it doesn’t stop when they move out of the house, it just changes.
I laugh at the stories I hear from new parents and the difficulties they face when parenting for the first time, struggling over naptime, eating veggies, play dates and time outs. Children don’t come with manuals that describe how they operate. Parenting has no training period so you can learn what to do or an internship to see if you like the job. It is what it is and you naturally adapt to each situation. Every child is different, every parent is different and every family is different. The best part is, you don’t get to find out if the job you did was effective until 20 years later when your kids are in therapy and blaming everything on you (just kidding).
Regardless, the parenting skills necessary for a four-year-old or a baby can seem daunting to the inexperienced parent. To another parent who may be currently surviving teenagers, they would kill for a week with a four-year-old, back when life was full of controllable situations and predictable patterns. Yet, the new parent needs to make those discoveries for themselves. Their job of parenting has just begun with the antics of planning, defining parenting methods and processes, developing parenting maintenance activities and my favorite, parental homework. So the parents of teens just laugh, hysterically, knowing that diapers and temper tantrums of the early years is the easy stuff.
When my kids were young teens, a wise women once told me, “Honey, no matter what you do, be it good or bad, in their eyes, you are always bad. So don’t feel guilty and do what you need to do to be a good parent.” She also said, “This is the age when you wonder why you had kids in the first place.” These words of my mother kept me going on some of those tough parenting days. And they were true. As the parent of teens, my knowledge and practical application of conflict resolution, anger management, communication skills, job specific training, and specific job descriptions were used and challenged on a daily basis.
Now that the older kids are in college, they don’t need parental input every day, but when they do, my parenting skills go up a notch as they present new and challenging opportunities for me to grow. As a parent of young adult students, I get to learn what important things I may have missed teaching them along the way like how to balance a checkbook, do laundry, or find appropriate health care. But, I also get to have great discussions about their newly acquired voting and civil rights, my son’s philosophical ethics class or my daughter’s biology class, or the importance of healthy relationships. It is such a pleasure helping and watching my children grow into young adults and feeling the responsibility of parenting lift as they make proper decisions in their lives, without the need for parental guidance. The parents of college students almost feel like they are in the home stretch.
But every time one of them gets in a car and goes on a road trip with friends, or ends up at a party, or has some other new experience, as their parent, I worry. And this is the same worry that my mother has to this day, when I travel to visit her. Which goes to show, the job of parenting will never go away--it will just take on a new form, worry. And it will be up to us, the parent, to deal with that worry in a healthy and constructive manner and not drive ourselves crazy. That’s the evolution of parenting.
For the early years, parenting skills require caring, nurturing, and developing; the teenage years are followed by teaching and mentoring; and interspersed throughout all those years is worry. Eventually, all of it goes away-- except for the worry. Our kids will grow up and have relationships, maybe decide to get married, which brings even more people into the circle to worry about, not just your own child. There will be more kids and even grandkids to start the whole cycle over, but as a grandparent instead of a parent.
Whether a parent, a grandparent, or both, the parenting job is for life. It’s full of responsibilities and accountabilities and the job description is constantly changing. But the rewards and benefits of the job make it well worth the journey, particularly if you know the expectations and are mentally prepared for the job. By the way, there is no retirement plan.
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes children’s and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org.