Growing up with our children
I was talking to my daughter the other day, a one-month-old mom, who has just entered the new world of parenthood. Before becoming a parent, she felt pretty grown up. After all, she had a job, an apartment, and a partner. She felt pretty confident in herself.
Now she is a new mom. Everything’s changed on a dime.
I harkened back to my early days as a Dad. Coming into parenthood brings us into a new world that we never imagined. We face challenges that we’ve never experienced before. Our relationship with our partner changes and is never entirely the same again. Kids bring a shared concern and focus that’s always present, even when they’re grown and gone. During the first 18-20 years of their lives, our involvement with our children is omnipresent. It’s hard to remember when we didn’t have youngsters!
Of course, the first couple of years of parenthood is filled with fatigue, joy, frustration, constant surveillance of toddlers, and total involvement with these little beings. We confront our own impatience, our need for control, our unrealized expectations, and our feelings about taking care of another person who is completely dependent on us. It’s totally engaging and at times, exhausting. It brings our marriage into a new orbit.
As they get bigger, our challenges grow in size too. What is our role? How do we nurture them? What do we value? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What kind of parents do we want to be? How do we respond to their problems? What limits do we set? When do we discipline them? What do we praise them for? Most of us struggle with these questions, read books, talk to friends, look within, have heated discussions with our spouse, and often feel like total failures. It’s a tough job—a lot harder than we imagined.
Their adolescence can be a rough road too—broken curfews, bad boy boyfriends, poor judgment, school problems, and miserable fights. Sometimes, these teens feel like toddlers with wheels. It can bring on new waves of fear and trembling.
Their young adulthood brings up new terrain. When do we help our adult children? When do we let them struggle with financial concerns? What is our role? When do we stay out of their problems? When do we offer help?
But when I look back at all of these years, I see that I grew up with my children.
Did I raise them or did they raise me? With each of their developmental stages, I discovered new wrinkles in my own personality and maturity. I confronted my impatience, my response to feeling helpless, my selfishness, my judgmental self, and my stubbornness. My children helped me cultivate patience, kindness, confidence, and flexibility. They taught me to become more nurturing.
We adapted to each other’s personality, temperament, strengths and weaknesses. We challenged each other to be more, when we were less. We helped each other find ourselves.
The experience of raising children made me a better man, husband, and son than I ever thought possible. My children helped me dig deep into myself when I needed more perseverance and perspective. Struggling with my wife over our parenting made me a better husband. And as a parent, my growing appreciation for my own parents, despite their limitations, made me a better son.
We make this journey together and through it all, we discover who we are and who we can be.