Why is it that we tend to not appreciate what we have until it’s gone? In the extra time that my mind has had freed up since my children have gone from home, I have found time for moments of reflection, time to learn to appreciate the present, and in hindsight wishing I could have appreciated the good stuff in parenting while I was in it. I have also gained a whole new perspective of ‘empty nest syndrome. You not only have to learn to live without the children action, friends in and out, dating, partying, school, exams, sports, arguments, curfews, sleepless nights, and a lot of balance, you have to learn to live with yourself, your own space and your spouse all over again. Maybe more time is allowed to reflect, wondering where time has gone, how did the kids get this old this fast, and why is my body not in sync with my brain that wants to enjoy this new freedom?
No one ever said parenting was going to be easy. There was never a book written to give all the answers, but we all wished there would have been. There has always been and always will be experts out there on parenting, from Dr. Spock of the 70’s to Dr. Dobson, Dr. Phil, and the Internet of today’s generation. If you are a parent reading this right now, wondering which expert to try next because your child just did another thing you cannot relate to, rest assured that “this too shall pass” and you really are the only expert your children need! Maybe at some point, we all thought we could do things different than our parents did, not make the same mistakes, and in that thinking process we cut ourselves off from the best advice, support system and role models there ever was, our parents!
Good parenting long ago was about keeping the children alive. Loss of a child would be most often accident or disease/sickness related. We may have progressed far beyond the basic life and death issues but every once in a while we have to be reminded that raising children is still about protecting life. The difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parenting becomes very clear when we hear tragic stories such as ‘abandoned baby in dumpster’ or ‘child dies of heatstroke after being left locked in a vehicle’ or ‘1 year old and 3 year old left alone die in house fire’ or ‘father given life sentence for beating child to death. ’
Of course, keeping our children alive is only the beginning of our role as a parent. We want to nurture our children so they become loving, caring, respectful, compassionate adults of integrity, so we work hard at this role we have been honored with. There is compelling evidence provided that children in infant/preschool years who are parented with lots of affection and consistent care develop all their capacities in a healthy way. Children in extreme neglect or abuse end up with underdeveloped brains as well as social, emotional and physical deficits. We may qualify to win the sleepless night sweepstake, and we may have to forget our own wants for a few years but it is good to know that this hard work is especially worthwhile when our children are too young to remember.
The rewards come when your 20 year old calls you her best friend and when you get an email from your 28 year old saying ‘mom, can we hang out more next time I come home’ or simply ‘thanks for encouraging me to be ‘me’. It would be unloving for a parent to expect our child to be anyone less than who they are destined to be. When the realization sets in that we are not in control of our children’s fate, that this whole parenting thing is not about control, we are not God but simply a guide, it becomes a test of faith. Our job is about honoring, loving and supporting this person in-the-making to become the individual they are meant to be. All we can do is role model loving, personally responsible behavior.
So, what is parenting? Maybe it is not so much what we give to our children but what we receive. The greatest gift is love, generously given, with no expectation of repayment. In the end, the greatest reward is that “Reflection” that helps us see, just the kind of parent we have been. The greatest realization for me is that God loved me enough to give me children so I can give back with all my love, unconditionally!
“The cleaning and scrubbing
Can wait for tomorrow
For children grow up
As I’ve learned to my sorrow
So guilt down cobwebs
Dust go to sleep
I’m rocking my baby
And babies don’t keep. ”