My oldest just graduated from high school, which has me in all the nostalgia. Because, I mean, this was the goal, right? To raise future adults into actual adults?
We did it! We made it!
Not that we’re ever finished parenting, but it’s like when your baby makes it past that mobile-enough-to-kill-themselves-but-not-mature-enough-to-know-better phase. You celebrate a little because, whew, good days and bad, they’re still alive.
There are challenges in every. single. phase of parenting. I haven’t gotten to the “parenting a young adult” or “parenting a married child” phases, but I remember being that kid, and I know it’s not easy.
Some of us have kids all bunched up, so we transition with our kids phase by phase, and some are parenting kids in multiple phases at once. I’ll raise my hand to the latter – my oldest son graduated high school and my youngest daughter was (FINALLY) potty-trained within two months of each other.
And now I’m a dog-mom too! You guys! I haven’t had a puppy in 30 years. I had no idea! I’m constantly trying to read his face like he’s a tiny human, and I’m always on the internet looking up this symptom or that theory or training technique and studying dog psychology, because he’s so smooshy and cute and I have no idea what I’m doing! My heart can’t take it!
I had Alex when I was barely 20 years old. We grew up together. I didn’t know how to be a wife or mother when I started – I don’t think any of us really know. Some of us had better examples than others to follow, but real experience takes doing. So, Alex was the first try for a LOT of different parenting approaches.
I have learned so much from him – from the 18 years we’ve had together so far – and I know I’ll keep learning as we go.
Here are a couple of things I’ve learned from my graduate:
I’ve learned that I have to take responsibility, but I can’t take credit.
For better or worse, we did our best. And Alex is an amazing person. He’s thoughtful and grounded, he’s creative and intelligent, he’s willing to learn from other people’s mistakes, he’s honoring and accountable, and most of the time just easy to be around. But a lot of that stuff was in him already. We just had to be careful to cultivate those things and not cut them off at the stem.
The same is true for the opposite, too. My kids’ behavior is not a reflection of my identity. They are little independent souls, and the best we can do is guide. We cannot control – we ought not. Not even the God of the Universe seeks to control us.
Sometimes they’ll make choices that align with our ideals, and sometimes they won’t. And that’s ok.
I’ve learned that rules without relationship leads to rebellion.
I think I got that from Josh McDowell.
I read a book called The Key to Your Child’s Heart and it talked about discipline in a way that leaves room for an intact relationship. It’s correcting without condemning and challenging our kids to rise up rather than emotionally beating them into submission.
I’ll never forget Gary Smalley’s advice to watch for signs of your child closing off his or her heart. It’s the place where they shut down, turn away, don’t want to be touched or talked to, and emotionally withdraw. It is in that place that you as the parent reach deep and pour out love and grace, offer forgiveness and connection, and pursue their hearts until they open back up. No amount of correction will stick with a child who’s heart is closed off to you. You have to wait until they are receptive – making eye contact (voluntarily!), in your arms, enveloped in the security of unconditional love. That is the only place correction will be received.
Standards and expectations? Absolutely. But never as a substitute for connection and relationship. There will always be time to teach, train, and correct. But if you lose your child’s heart, it is very, very difficult to gain it back.
SO not perfect at this, but it is an ideal we parent by.
I’ve learned that it is more than OK to prioritize my health and my marriage.
I can’t list the number of times I struggled with the conflict of missing time with my kids in order to prioritize treatment for PTSD and Dissociation. There was a period of time when Alex was eight years old that I was gone for seven months in residential treatment. But the mantra of my treatment team, counselors, friends, and family was, “It’s better for him to miss a few days/weeks/months with you now than it is for him to lose his mom forever.”
Same goes for my marriage. Kurt and I high five each other and every now and then and say, “Hey! We still like each other!” We’ve taken weekends away to Kansas City or Des Moines, spent money on babysitters to see a movie or have a meal, and stayed up late nights or met for lunch to have an uninterrupted conversation. Marriage is SO much work. Absolutely no judgment for people who struggle! But, for me, knowing Kurt is in my corner no matter what frees me up to be a much better mother to my kids.
It also made a lot of kids.
More than anything, I’m grateful.
I’m grateful to God for allowing me to steward this man’s life. I’m grateful to the village that helped me raise him. I absolutely could not have done it alone. I’m grateful to my husband for all. the. things.
And I’m grateful to Alex for the lessons learned and the friendship we have going forward. I can’t wait to see the places you’ll go.