Becoming a parent is like joining a club. We become responsible for another human being in a way that’s different from most other relationships- and for moms, these kids really are part of us- science even shows that part of their DNA ends up in our bodies forever. That club means moms will often talk to each other about their kids, the good stuff and the bad, looking for tips, a shoulder to cry on, and just the understanding that comes with having this life-changing experience in common.
As our kids get older and become young adults, parenting evolves as well. We try to give them advice and get them to avoid our own mistakes. We learn, the hard way, that they will often have to get their own set of bruises that life dishes out, and we can’t protect them from these. I will tell my kids “Make all new mistakes- not the same ones I made- trust me!” but they need the lessons these bumps and bruises teach them, even when it’s surrounded by parent frustration and the choking back of words like “I told you so.”
As my kids are transitioning into adulthood, I often find myself trying to provide guidance, but also trying to remember to just shut up sometimes. I provide extra warnings and precautions, not just because I worry about them, but somehow, I believe that these warnings and precautions act like a shield, or a blessing over them, to prevent harm from coming their way. Silly and superstitious, yes. But I have to say these things sometimes, so if anything horrible does happen, I won’t regret forever having not said the “I love you! Be careful, drive safe” as they leave the house. I want to keep them safe and happy as much as I can, even though more and more, they are responsible for themselves and what the rest of the world dishes out.
When I found out about a friend’s child dying this week, a child sandwiched right between the ages of my two boys, I was gobsmacked. It makes me worry about the vulnerability of my kids, just at the point in time when we are letting go of the last vestiges of control we think we still have as parents.
Transitioning to Adulthood
When I was that age, I remember feeling really insecure about just about everything. Of not knowing my place in the world, and only having an inkling of where I thought I should be, only to have life dish up its own surprises and learning that I could be, and should be, on a different track.
I remember confessing to a mentor, worried I would be such a disappointment, about wanting to change fields, and being told “Seriously- if your choices in this life are between getting a PhD in Biology or going to law school, you have no problems.” He was right. But I needed someone to tell me it was okay to change, to make new choices, to find a better fit, to live my own life and not a life I thought I wanted and conjured for myself at age 11. (That’s a story for another time.) I wonder who those mentors will be for my kids, and I also know that seldom do we get to be those significant adults for our very own children.
There’s a serious temptation, every day, to run away from being a grown up. The consequences are real. They’re big. You will have to deal with them a very long time. The thing no one ever tells you is that you stop feeling any older, on the inside, at about age 25 or so. You get a lot more experience and can make better decisions as a result, but that person is still in there, just trying to figure out the next thing, the next opportunity or responsibility or problem, and hoping people won’t figure out that they handed the reigns to someone who doesn’t always have a clear path or goal in mind from the very beginning.
I remember clearly, as a young person, thinking adults not only had all the power but they just knew stuff and had everything figured out, a plan and agenda in place. When I had my own kids, they did not come with a manual. I had to make all the rules, and I didn’t write them down, either.
I had to learn that so much in life, for me, anyway, is about preparation and improv. I need to be as prepared as I can be, or know where to source information if I need it, but I’m making it up as I go, trying to make the best decisions I can, doing the best I can, I also know I’m going to make mistakes, say something stupid, be awkward, be wrong, and I still have to move forward.
The hardest lesson for me has been to learn to allow myself to make mistakes, to forgive myself for being stupid and awkward, and move on as gracefully as possible. Humility. Life serves up a lot of it, and the key is that admitting mistakes is so much better than trying to cover them up or pretend they never happen at all.
Those Grownup Secrets
I don’t know how to teach these grown-up secrets to my kids. How do you give them a great foundation and trust you have good advice and know stuff when you are also admitting how much you don’t know at the same time? How do I let them know that there is no perfect other than pushing yourself to do your best, without also feeling like I didn’t figure out what it was like to really work hard until some time in law school? How do I tell them that I know what I can do to grind out a big project, but that I also struggle with balancing hard work and the joy of goofing off and enjoying life?
The hardest words to say are often I Don’t Know. I don’t know if it will turn out ok. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know if they’ll make it. I don’t know how to fix it, or if it can be fixed.
My kids once recorded me saying “Honey, I was Wrong” and turned it into a ringtone for my husband’s phone, making fun of the fact that I was annoyingly, often right and rarely wrong, but I actually pride myself on saying things like “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry”. They aren’t always easy to say, but I try to apologize after I fly off the handle about something or make something a bigger deal than it really is.
The lesson of adulthood may be, in the end, learning to accept imperfection, even when folks are trying their best, and it turns out to fall short. It’s to accept what we have control over and what we don’t, and finding a way to become comfortable with that, even when it deals us huge blows.
It’s time to brush off the blues and to get on with it. 2017 will be a year full of its own challenges, but facing it with a positive face will take us mich farther than looking at a glass half full. There’s lots of potential for joy and good out there, and it’s time to revel in as much of it as possible.
I hope your 2017 is magical. We need it.