Voices of experience carry wisdom

“Thing to remember is if we’re all alone, then we’re together in that too.” —Patricia, “P.S. I Love You”

“It all seemed so unnatural—loading up the cars with his belongings. Helping him make his bed in his new house. Both of these brought tears to my eyes. I hugged him goodbye and got into my car. Pulling out of his driveway something happened. I lost it…I sobbed. I wept. I cried until I was done—until there were no more tears. And guess what? I felt better. He is going to do great things and he is ready for this world. I can see this more clearly after allowing myself to cry.” (Parent of high school grad)

These were some of the words that squeezed every drop out of my heart when I read them. I asked a panel of 30 parents, from mid-20s through mid-50s with kids from ages 2 to 30-plus about what they have learned during major milestones of having kids. Their emotions are intense—and surprisingly similar.

A mother of three adults summed up their responses perfectly: “(In the midst of child-rearing) I am grateful to God for putting people in my path that helped me during some difficult times….”

And that’s what I know their collective advice can do. It will speak for itself. It’s user-friendly, too, because it applies when we hold our children’s hands walking them to kindergarten, then can be recycled for the day their stuff is packed into moving boxes. Because it seems we’re always going to struggle letting go of their hand.

You’re not alone

“I learned that I couldn’t raise my children on my own. It’s hard for me to ask for help. It’s easier to feel sorry for myself and wonder why things aren’t happening the way I want them to…. I learned that it is important to be honest about our struggles as parents. Too often we try to pretend that everything is perfect, even if we are struggling to keep our heads above water. When we can let our guard down…we can enter into a whole new level of support with each other.” (Parent of toddlers)

“Trust others to be an influence in your child’s life…your child needs to have other concerned adults they can trust…you have to teach them that teachers and mentors can be important. Besides, when your kid is a teenager, you graduate to officially ‘knowing nothing’ according to your child. Another adult can give them the exact same words of advice, but they will actually listen to him/her simply because they are not the parent.” (Parent of two young adults)

Ask, then step off

“One day (my son) came home (from kindergarten) and said he didn’t want to go to school anymore. My response was you have 12 years of this. I asked him ‘What can I do to help you enjoy going to school?’ His reply? ‘Let me wear what I want to.’ I had insisted on sending my son to school in button down shirts and slacks. Apparently I thought I had a future businessman on my hands…and all the other boys were in blue jeans and T-shirts. Poor, silly mom. My advice: be sure to ask questions. What may appear to be big problems could be a matter of minor adjustments. (Parent of young adults)

“Take the time to listen. Many conversations I had with my kids were before bed and around the kitchen table.” (Parent of adults)

“Friends go from BFF to mortal enemy many times over…. Offer gentle guidance and plenty of hugs…and then step back.” (Parent of adult children)

“Ask lots of questions and let them talk, talk, talk (even at midnight when you are going to drop dead from exhaustion.) Work hard to understand the world from their point of view. It’s harder than you think. But most kids want to be understood.” (Parent of young adults)

Be the parent

“(During high school years) I had to keep reminding myself that rebellion is nature’s way to independence. The conflict between parent and child motivates them to one day leave the nest, and motivates us to let them.” (Parent of adult children)

“Parents should not act like their child’s best friend…. Instead they need direction and guidance, which often translate into a lot of disagreements and heartache.” (Parent of adult children)

“Faith in God…and faith in my kids. We’ve taught them their whole lives how to handle situations and how to deal with things as they come up in life. We instill what we can in them along the way, so they will take that with them.” (Parents of young adults)

“Admit when you are wrong and ask your kids for forgiveness. Lets them know you are human.” (Parent of young adults)

“‘No’ wasn’t an answer that was used constantly or lightly, but when it was used it truly meant NO, not maybe or later. That saved a lot of negotiating.” (Parent of adult children)

Trust your ability—and theirs

“Sometimes our fears can reflect something deeper than wanting our children to be OK. We may feel that if they don’t do well their failure reflects poorly on our parenting. Our identity gets too wrapped up in how they turn out. Their immaturity probably doesn’t say as much about you as you think it does.” (Parent of young adults)

“Let your kids make mistakes…at any age. Better they try their wings and ‘flail’ while under your roof than while alone in the big bad world.” (Parent of young adults)

“You are raising those children to let them go…pray for them.” (Parent of young adults)

“If we don’t let them trust in themselves, then what we’ve been telling them all along wasn’t the truth.” (Parent of young adults)

Not a kid anymore

“It’s not pretty when they flutter and fall…but being there to help them recover and learn from their mistakes is what true love is all about.” (Parent of young adults)

“It hurts to feel like you’re losing your children. In a way you are; you’re losing them as children, that part of their lives is over. Grieve it, but let it go. Allow them to grow up and receive them as adults in your life.” (Parent of young adults)

“Parents have a hard time letting go and seeing their children as adults. I think the biggest mistake a parent can make is not knowing when their child-rearing days are over.” (Parent of adult children)

You’re not alone, Part II

And some final words that serve to snap us back to our center during a sleep-deprived night caused by our colicky newborn… or our alienated tween… or our curfew-breaking teenager, or our recently divorced 30-year-old son….

“When you think things are horrible and God has left you, be thankful for the little things. Start small. Thank you for my thumbs…thank you I had enough toothpaste in the tube for one more brush.” (Parent of toddlers)

Then pray for daylight. Cause tomorrow, we can buy more toothpaste.

Comments or questions on this column can be directed to shelley@hillsborofreepress.com

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