Monday, March 7, 2016

What Comes After All That Parenting

Parenting older children is a quiet endeavor, one that allows for far less sharing. There are no more cute stories. There is much more silence, silence between me and you, silence between my children and me. (The thick kind of silence you can hear.) Much more waiting. Hard swallowing at the inevitable disappointments. As children venture out and away from the safety net of home, they face all kinds of opportunities. Among this larger group of opportunities are bound to be opportunities for hurt and rejection.

My task these days is not to shield my children from experience but to sit back and do nothing as they make choices that I do not question (even as I do). I am here if, not when, they need a soft landing, or an odd moment in their day to regroup.

Parenting teens, oh, it requires patience, and forbearance, but mostly, I think, humor. As when older teen went off to college interviews this winter, and we suggested gems like, "Don't order a cinnamon roll, or you'll have to answer questions with your mouth full and crumbs spilling out of your mouth!"

"Turns out," grinned the teen, afterwards, "that what food I ordered was the least of it. Instead, I might have remembered the answer to the question, 'Why our university?' with information from the correct university."

Oops.

But this, I think, is the crux of parenting older kids. It is impossible to know how to guide them, when we make up so little of the experience that is shaping them. And that is best, because we should not be guiding them. They can guide themselves, or conceal it more or less artfully when they get off track.

We parents used to be the interviewers. We used to know not only the questions we would ask but the answers we sought. Now we do not know the questions, the answers, or even the interviewers themselves. That is as it should be.

"The funny thing is," our teen continued after revealing his interview gaffe, "I think I managed to work my way around to a good answer to that question, even after my confusion. And that may have ended up being my best interview." Then he shrugged. "It's out of my hands now, anyway."

As it is out of our hands. As you, our eighteen-year-old (but also two-year-old, six-year-old, ten-year-old, and fourteen-year-old), are out of our hands. Still, we'll be here, loving you, worrying about all the wrong things, for the rest of your life. It's what we do.