It’s an interesting thing to watch people grow up, especially if the people happen to be your own children. You see them through all the early stages, through the cute baby and childhood years. Then comes the teen era, and while I admit that my two were easy teens, it was still a challenging period in our lives. And now they are in their 20s, 23 and 27.
This summer, we will have our five-year anniversary of being empty-nesters. Hard to believe it could already be that long since we had kids at home every day. Stephanie and Matt will have their 5th anniversary in June, and Alex will end his five-year contract with the Army in August.
Through these years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in them. They were good kids…but they were kids. Now, they have not only taken on adult responsibilities, they have crossed into the adult world in maturity. Not that they’re all done. Oh no, none of us is ever a completely finished human being. That’s part of the magic of humanity. We get to continue the process of re-inventing, of self-discovery, maturing, throughout life. Circumstances change around us and cause us to respond. Or maybe the change is self-generated. But the point is, we have an almost infinite capacity to grow. And that’s a good thing.
I sometimes hear them complain about work issues, someone not doing their job or doing it poorly. Alex has experienced the loss of a number of friends, casualties of war and life. That’s a growth experience a lot of people don’t have at his age. He spent a year deployed to a combat zone in Iraq, and that shaped him too.
Stephanie, 7th grade math teacher, brave soul that she is, is frequently saddened by the turmoil she witnesses in the lives of her students. And she’s caught between expectations of her as a teacher and the burden of having 30+ kids in class several times a day. And she’s taken on the joy and journey of being mom to Riley, in itself guaranteed to furnish a lifetime of growth opportunities.
I’ve seen them mature in their marriages too. That’s another area no one is ever done with. If you’re married, you’re challenged. Not because of the specific person you’re married to…because you are with another human being. No two are alike, no two are always in sync, and no two are perfect. And young marriages are by definition a work in progress. Actually any marriage is a work in progress.
But what I hear is not the complaints or frustration. I hear two people who understand if you take on a job, you need to step up, do it right (or as best you can). They understand that actions have consequences, that adults do the responsible thing. That applies to relationships and to work. They get that life isn’t always fun, although it often is. They’ve learned to value the income they earn, and understand they are paid because of the effort they put in. We’re not subsidizing their lives or their choices. And that’s a good thing.
And the best part? Rob says we’re just consultants now. That’s our role. Of course we’ll always be their parents. But most of the time we get to be friends with these two great young adults. Making the transition from parent to friend has been a gradual process; not consciously sought, but so rewarding. This is the part you can’t foresee when children are little: how sweet it is to see them on their on path to becoming, in spite of the parenting mistakes and mis-steps. This is not bragging, you understand. In fact, it’s astonishing to me that two small beings, put into the hands of naive twenty-somethings, are stable young adults. And that’s the real payoff for all the years of work, lost sleep, taxi service, school events, youth group, soccer practice, etc., etc., etc. It’s a good place to be, and I’m honored to have a front row seat from which to witness, cheer, and encourage them on their way.