I have four children – three are adults and out of the house – and the youngest is disabled, so he will always live with us. His profound developmental delays keep him from holding a job, going to college or doing anything independently. Sometimes I sit and look back at all the years past; those moments in time when I never thought I would find my way out of a season. I often wonder if I used to spend more time looking ahead instead of living in the moment enjoying each new skill or sign of maturity.
When the kids were little, I was always waiting for them to sleep through the night or be able to feed themselves. Then it was the anticipation of being able to tie their own shoes, take a shower independently, get their own breakfast and ride a bike. And years later it was the waiting to drive independently, working for their own spending money, playing sports, joining school clubs and having sleepovers. So much waiting and dreaming of what was to come as if the next season, the next phase, would be so much better or easier or more enjoyable than the one being experienced. Sometimes the moments of mundane, routine living cause us to overlook the joy in the today as we anxiously wait for the moments of our tomorrows. Yet what we miss in looking ahead is the wonder of each today. We miss the color and beauty and depth of the living occurring right in front of us. Maybe it is society that tells us there is something bigger, better or greater to be had if we can just figure out how to get there, how to hurry life into the next season. What we so easily fail to recognize is that every season, every age, every child brings a unique spice of life and reason to be thankful. Just this past week, we spent five days in the mountains with our kids. The oldest three are on their own with two married, one with a child, and one in the military and home for two weeks. We rented a big, four bedroom house up on a hill at the base of the Rockies overlooking the city. It was a beautiful view with lots of outdoor seating and space to roam and enjoy the surroundings. At one point, as I sat outside on a worn wicker chair, my thoughts went back to those days of littles when I was so busy running, playing, cooking, cleaning, playing referee and driving to all the activities. Oh how life has changed from then to now. I remembered the moments throughout their childhood when I would often think of the days ahead when I would not have to do all this anymore and things would be easier. Yet now that some day is here, and I find myself wishing for more time. I certainly love having adult children, but it is not necessarily what I expected. Maybe I do not know what I expected. It is a lot of listening, trying not to give too much advice, and learning how to be more of a friend than a parent. I have learned my adult kids do not want me to tell them what worked for me when I was their age or how to manage a specific situation. Instead, they want to do the talking and be supported, not preached at. They are navigating their own paths, forming their own beliefs, and creating their own circle of support.
Jim Burns wrote a book called Doing Life With Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out. Let me just say, if you have adult kids, or are about to release them into the world, you need this book. Burns says “Although you and your child are traveling different paths, you’re on a parallel journey of reinventing your relationship. It’s better when you navigate it together, but neither of you have passed this way before, and even if you have made the transition with one child, the next child likely will approach the transition to adulthood differently…..You no doubt will experience bewilderment when your grown kids violate your values or live differently from how they were raised, but your goal must remain the same: to help your children transition to responsible adulthood.” My kids have all verbalized at least one thing they wish we had done differently, but like most parents, we did the best we could. There are many details of our lives we did not share with them – things that definitely shaped our family circumstances and how we parented – but at the end of the day, when I look back at the years gone by, I can confidently say we did our best, we gave it our all, we loved passionately and fully, we handed out apologies when needed and embraced with loving arms. And the result is three beautiful, adult kids who have done well for themselves. Burns also says, “Your attitude, lifestyle, values, faith, and example impact your kids in ways you may never fully know. Author and pastor Chuck Swindoll summarized building legacy so well when he said, ‘Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children’.” What truth that holds because we may never fully see the impact our parenting has on our kids and how they live their lives, raise their kids, treat others, or make decisions. I will say the most important thing we gave our kids was an introduction to their faith. How they choose to live it out is up to them.
Just this past week, one of the kids was telling me details about his life, and I said something that must have sounded like advice or instruction. And in the typical response, he said “mom, you just don’t get it”. And he was right. I do not get his life because I have never experienced the environment or the structure under which he lives and breathes. I kind of laughed and thought of this from Burns’ book: “I’ve learned that in most cases the best policy for parents is to bite their tongues and remain silent. Withholding advice goes against our nature as parents, but unsolicited advice is usually taken as criticism.” Did you hear that friends? Unsolicited advice is usually taken as criticism. Let me tell you from numerous experiences with my own kids – that is so true. They do not want me to tell them how to interact with friends, what to do about their college scheduling problems, how to parent their kids, or how to manage a stressful work environment. They want – and need – to figure it out on their own. But that is so hard to do! I have a lot of words to get out. I have a lot of opinions. I like to say I verbally vomit whatever I am thinking in the moment. So for me to bite my tongue does not come naturally. But it is a skill I am developing and using frequently these days. I want my kids to know I support them no matter what choice they make, whether it is how I would have done it or not. My kids need to know I am here as a safe place to land.
While I sometimes look back with regret for the things I think I should have done differently in the years that have passed, I know in my heart my husband and I did the very best we could under the circumstances in which we lived and breathed. At the time, with the resources and knowledge we had, we did what we thought was right. I do not know of anyone who looks back on days of the past without wishing they could change at least a little. But wishing I had done some things differently does not correlate to me being a bad mom. I know I did alright because I have kids who have grown into responsible, caring, thoughtful adults. And I know I had a part in that.
So as my husband and I are now fully enveloped in the season of grown kids, grand babies, and everything else adulting, I am choosing to be thankful for all the yesterdays. I am choosing to relish the wonderful memories. I am choosing to remember the laughter and fun we had. While I cannot predict or even have a say in how my kids live their adult lives, I will certainly be available to give hugs, listen quietly and provide support. I am thankful I can now be a cheerleader mom instead of having to lead the way and direct the decisions they make. That duty is gone, but I can, and will, be available with the welcome mat out and my mouth tightly shut.