Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Job of a Parent

Happy Father's Day...

Yesterday I noticed that Facebook was flooded with cute little graphics on parenting.  After a while, I started seeing a common theme;  it involved the eternal sacrifice of parenting.  And yes, we will always be parents, all our lives we will love our children, and help them in the best way we can.

It's "the best way we can" part that becomes the rub.

from the Granimals 2010 summer collection
How many times do we hear (or say) "Oh, I wish they could stay this way forever"?  But is that what I really want?  I don't want to see my almost 30 year old son wearing a onesie with cartoon animals, and I don't want my married, adult daughter coming to me to kiss her boo boos.

Yes, we love and cherish those days.  We enjoy days spent weaving dandelions into crowns,  and when the most challenging thing we had to deal with was that the blankie was in the wash.

But the job of a parent isn't to produce happy, carefree children.  The job of a parent is to produce capable adults.

Part of that is providing a supportive, enriching childhood... and plenty of fun.  Children learn through play.  But the measure of how well you do as a parent doesn't come when your child gets the lead in the 3rd grade play, or when they lovingly present you with that half cooked, half burnt breakfast early in the morning on Father's Day (or Mother's Day), or the light in their eyes when they open those colorful boxes on Christmas morning.    Those are the little rewards that keep us going as parents, but the ultimate job, the ultimate sign of our success as parents, comes much later.

My friends are always a little stunned when I admit that I'll be happy when my kids leave home.  Sure, There's the element of freedom for me in all that:  I don't need to be woken at midnight when my college age daughter comes in after movie night on campus, and I don't need to smell coffee in the morning (a smell I dislike intensely), and I can hang that picture that the girls think is so ugly in the living room without hearing about it every day.  But ultimately there's something beyond that, something more important.

Because when my kids leave home... when they can support themselves, have their own independent places to live... when they can create their own nourishing environments for themselves... budget their income... cook their own food...  when they are out on their own making their own way...  Then and only then can I know I've done a good job at parenting.

There are times I think that being aware of my children's inevitable adulthood at an early age came as a result of them being differently abled.  I was told that two of my children would never live outside of an institution.  And in my youngest's case, that she'd likely be in a wheelchair all her life, and that I'd be feeding her and changing her diaper for the rest of my life.

Being aware that the child would be an adult who could be a child in her mind and ability brought home the fact that children do grow up; they do become adults.

This doesn't mean that you treat children as adults, or that you don't cherish the time that your child is very young, or that you can't see the beauty and wonder of childhood.  It means that while you're doing all that, you're also aware that these moments are joys along the journey, and not the destination.

So yes, I'm thrilled that my daughters are moving out and moving on.  It means that I've prepared them, I've given them the tools that they need, that they've learned, grown, and are ready to embark on their own lives.  And yes, I'm a little sad, too, because I remember the little girls in Granimals, and I remember when the biggest challenge in life was to weave those dandelions into crowns without breaking the stems.