Sounds like a country/western song, doesn’t it? Parenting. I have always told our children that there is nothing more wonderful when you’re ready for it, and I imagine there’s nothing more difficult when you’re not.
I’m not telling any of you parents out there anything you don’t already know, but parenting (a verb for the first time in our generation, by the way) is an all-consuming, 24/7, joyful, worrisome, thrilling, heartbreaking, lifetime undertaking. And yes, I do mean “lifetime,” because once you lay eyes on the tiny new person that you brought into the world, that person remains forever your child, and you her parent.
I’ve heard parenting likened to being “pecked to death by a chicken,” a description that can be pretty accurate at times (reference “teen years” in the handbook that nobody bothered to write – they were too busy parenting). For the most part though, it is the most wonderful endeavor, the best and highest calling, with which we as human beings are gifted. There is no more important job.
We often hear the term “raising children,” but the fact of the matter is that, if we are doing our jobs as parents, we are actually raising adults. That concept is neither new nor original to me, but it’s one that I’ve believed for decades, and I’ve done my best to do just that. I’ve always believed that it is our duty to our children and to the world to prepare them for life, not to coddle them to be mental toddlers for the rest of their lives.
I think it’s always mattered very much to me to prepare my children to be productive, faithful, kind, responsible, loving adults, because I lost my own mother to a wicked form of leukemia when I was a young teen. She lived three years past her diagnosis, and she tried to pack a lifetime of parenting into those three cruel, difficult years. Of course, as a self-centered, know-it-all teenager, I had no idea how important it was to her to impart those life lessons to me before she ran out of time. I know now though, and teaching my children self-sufficiency, coaxing them to live well and treat others well, to give back, matters to me. I’m proud to say that I think my husband and I have done a pretty good job. To be sure, we made our fair share of mistakes but all in all, we did pretty darned good.
The knife cuts both ways, though, and when we parent like this, our children do become competent adults. They make their life choices with confidence and self-assurance (and sometimes with trepidation and anxiety, but they make them). Those choices may take them to live in other areas of the country or even someplace outside the country. They make those choices based on sound reasoning, compassion and ambition. For that I am glad but as I mentioned earlier, once a parent, always a parent. No matter our children’s ages, at least for me anyway, it’s difficult not to see them as young, completely dependent babies. It’s difficult to shake the notion that, as long as Mama’s within hollering distance, all is right with the world.
With every milestone that our children have reached, I have most assuredly been a proud mom, but I have also struggled with the sadness of knowing that each of those milestones marks a step farther away from reliance on Mom and Dad. As silly as this sounds now, I celebrated every graduation, from preschool to college, with an uncontrollable waterfall of sappy Mom tears. You know, the tears that gush without warning, propelled by both bursting pride and heart-wrenching sadness. Come to think of it, I celebrated potty training, shoe-tying and coloring inside the lines with the same faithful waterworks. I’m working on that.
All of our children are young adults now, very cool people to just hang out with. Of course, they most often tend to want to hang out with other young people, not just with Mom and Dad. That’s OK; we just treasure the times that we do have with them that much more as a result.
Yes, my husband and I have become that couple, the one we used to call “old.” When our children come to visit, we load them up with containers of food and small household appliances when they leave. I have a lingering fear of one of our children going hungry; I come from a long line of Southern hospitality-driven feeders. When our youngest moved away to go to college, I sneaked 15 jars of peanut butter into her footlocker. I figured with all that peanut butter, at least she wouldn’t starve to death while at school.
We tell them to be sure to call us when they reach their destination, then we call them first to shame them for forgetting to do so. We give them advice on choosing car insurance - and boyfriends and girlfriends. Some of the advice is welcomed; other advice is merely tolerated until they can get out the door, our of earshot.
Without a doubt the toughest part of being the parent of an adult child is watching them suffer through something. Anything. It’s hard to see them navigate the treacherous waters of a breakup, or of a job that is wearing them down in so many ways. It’s hard to see their hearts breaking, living with something that we saw as a mistake early on, but could not say so. Reining in the urge to parents is harder, I think, than just blurting out my Mom advice, unsolicited and unappreciated. Keeping silent when we see them walking down a similar path that we did as young adults, knowing where that path inevitably leads, is painful. Speaking for myself, I just want to take my children into my arms and protect them from an unforgiving world, but how can they learn if I do that? Oh my, it’s hard.
My husband seems to be handling all of this “growing up” better than I am. While I fuss and prepare to make meals and visits with our children special and memorable, he swears he’s just sizing up which of our children will likely take the best care of us in our old age.
The jury’s still out on that one.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth and newest book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, is slated for April 12 publication. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST, RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR, and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole’s unmistakable honest humor and clever writing style earned her national fame almost instantly, when her first book was published in 2011. “Townsend has her readers laughing from page one; her gut-honest humor is starkly, hilariously funny.” (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 2012). Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the southeast region, teaching writers’ workshops, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well being of the family. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.