Parenting towards adulthood
There’s one thing in common with every marriage course I’ve been to and every marriage book I’ve read. Somewhere at the beginning, they talk about your family of origin.
What kind of marriage did your parents have? How did they make decisions? How did they resolve conflict? My husband and I have been through the conversation numerous times, exploring how the family each of us grew up in has influenced the people we are today and the way we relate to each other in our marriage.
The conversation has always been about us, examining and critiquing our parents.
Then the perspective changed for me, big time. As our children have grown into young adults and have left home to begin their own marriage and build their own lives, I realised that I was now the family of origin.
It seems a bit silly, but I had never really thought about it. I knew that as a parent my kids were always watching me. I knew that a loving and supportive home environment was important, but to be honest, for most of the years while my kids were growing up I was just trying to keep clean clothes in the wardrobes and edible food on the table. I wasn’t focused on demonstrating what a great marriage looked like for my kids to emulate, I just wanted to survive each day and stay married until tomorrow.
Parenting with the end goal in mind
There are some things that I’m glad I did as a parent, even though it wasn’t a carefully thought through strategy at the time.
We taught our kids to work through their own conflict
I didn’t intervene every time my kids had an argument and always sort it out for them. I got them to talk to each other and agree on a solution, or at least negotiate a peace treaty. Our kids loved to fight. At the time I hated it. Looking back now I understand why God designed family and the value of having siblings. There are many valuable life skills learned by having to negotiate what side of the car to sit on and who’s turn it is to wash up.
Coping well with conflict is a valuable adult skill. We need to learn that it’s okay not to make everyone happy. We need to learn to disagree with someone and still love them fiercely. We need to be able to have difficult conversations, to share how we have been hurt, to address serious issues and for it not to completely derail our confidence or our relationships. These are important life skills, and there is no way to learn them without practice.
We let our kids feel the pain of their own consequences
When they forgot their lunch they went hungry; when they didn’t do their homework they missed out on play time; when they were late for school they got detention. These were their problems, not mine, and it wasn’t always up to me to save them from their mistakes.
It’s really hard to watch your kids hurt, especially when we have the power to save them. But growing in maturity means learning to take responsibility. We all know adults who still blame others for every little thing that goes wrong in their lives. They have never learned to take responsibility for their own mistakes.
We love our kids unconditionally
Life can be hard, and we were determined to make walking in the front door of our home the best part of their day. There is so much pressure to perform, the pressure to fit in, the pressure to impress out there in the big bad world, we didn’t want to bring that pressure into our home. We made it very clear to our kids that there was no mistake that they could make that would make them unwelcome in our home. Sometimes our kids made big mistakes, had real struggles and big problems to solve. Home is the place where we tried to give our kids a safe place to retreat and be built up, encouraged and cheered on.
We all know the feeling of being reminded of our mistakes and shortcomings. It is very rare that someone reminds me of my faults more often than I remind myself. My kids didn’t need me to lecture them about their character flaws. They needed me to give hugs and milkshakes and tell them that they could do it. They needed the confidence to keep going, and believe in themselves, not a constant nagging reminder of their weaknesses.
Even now that my children have grown up and are coping with the adult world really well, this will always be true in our family. I love giving out hugs and milkshakes and telling my kids that I am proud of them.
I didn’t always get it right. I can think of many many times when I got angry, made mistakes and had to ask my children for forgiveness. The early years of parenting were relentless; a blur of busyness and activity. Every day was a mixture of fun and mess, chores and noise. We all had to learn to do things that we didn’t want to do. We all had to learn how to do life together. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes I dreamed of running away to a solitary island for some peace and quiet.
And now it’s over. At least, it is very different. The opportunity to teach my children how to live is finished, and I have the joy of watching them put into practice everything that they learned from growing up in our family. They are having to navigate the challenges of life with the tools that I gave them, as inadequate as they may be.
Sometimes I wish I could go back and have another go; to laugh more and yell less; to take time to enjoy the hugs around my legs under the kitchen bench. I have so many regrets about the mistakes that I made, the things I should have done, the wrong decisions along the way.
I am so thankful for my wonderful husband who is an amazing dad. He was the calm in my panic so often, and he has a wonderful friendship with each of our children. I couldn’t have done it without him, and I have enormous respect for the single parents who carry the weight of parenting alone. You’re amazing!
I have to trust in the grace of God to fill my parenting gaps. I will pray for my children every day, and keep my front door, and my mother’s heart, always open.