But parenthood is not a profession and never was. It is, at most, a condition in which we live for a protracted but finite period. And while we may speak of good parenting versus bad parenting, I don't think we can or should attempt to judge our performance as parents with ever finer metrics of success or failure. In parenting there are variables entirely out of our control: of course these variables are our children themselves, with their own temperaments and trajectories, their own wishes, fears, strengths, and limitations.
As I live through the final years of parenting, I begin to suspect that this generation of parents is wholly unprepared for what comes next. We are so caught up in the day-to-day of it all that we forget to wonder how we will fill the hours once our children are out of the house. And if we do consider those hours, it is with naïve eyes. We think we long for that time. Will we really?
We also fail to set aside a thought or two for the adjustments our marital relationship will require when not buffered or buffeted by the demands of children. The cartoon depicting husband and wife staring at each other in shock and alarm after they've waved goodbye to their son in the parking lot of his college dormitory? "What now?" Not far off the mark, that cartoon.
Obviously our children do not cease being our children once they stop living with us. But tides will shift. To deny the fact would be foolish and might also set us up for emotional distress on a scale we hadn't thought to anticipate.
Remember those first few blurry weeks of parenthood? When the world seemed turned upside down and shaken once or twice for good measure? Why wouldn't we expect the climb out of full-time parenting to be just as jarring?