Parenthood is the toughest you’ll ever love…but SO WORTH every single sleepless night, every speck of vomit on your clothes, every tear shed, every dirty diaper, every ounce of worry over a sick child, every difficult decision, every moment of indecision, every time you hear the words everybody else is allowed, every time you say because I said so (even though you swore you never would), every one of the millions of hours carpooling to practices and games, all the clean-your-room wars, every homework battle, and then comes the hands down toughest of all…. watching them fly out of the nest and letting them go. It’s ALL worth it because….you forget all of the tough parts and only remember the little hands, the tight hugs, the I love you’s, tucking in at bedtime, family vacations, all the milestones.. steps, words, school years, dates, dances, graduations and then the marriages…and oh, the grandbabies. You forget about all the mistakes you made and remember the journey and hug it close to your heart. From the trenches, to the field, to sidelines, to viewing stands…it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love. One of our young friends once said….I think God gives us children so that we can begin to understand what it means to love with your whole heart and serve others before self. I think she was right.
Well, my friends, we are now empty-nesters and I’m here to tell you that those days mentioned above do end…well before you are ready. That is why we oldies give those young ones that knowing smile when they tell us they are expecting, or gaze longingly as they hold their newbie in their arms. We learned a lot in that journey. We made lots of mistakes out of youth or naivety or just plain fatigue, and some things we accidentally did right, thank goodness. We are so proud of the men our sons grew to be because of, and most definitely in spite of what we did or did not do, and we celebrate them in their adulthood. But, there was still SO much to be learned.
We are hearing such good advice now about child rearing. Why didn’t we know that…then? has become our repetitive mantra. We want to keep learning. We are reading a lot of research about what our generation did wrong in the parenting scene. We stand guilty as charged. The thing is, with our hindsight being 20/20, we have some wisdom on what worked well, and what we wish we had done differently. We can help with the interpretation of this new data from the vantage point of one having been there and done that. Those young parents can learn as much from our failures as our successes. We can bring the exclamation point to the importance and priceless value of time and priorities.
We heard two great pieces of parenting advice recently that we think is too powerful not to share with empty-nesters and young parents alike. These are action steps that both seasons of life can put into practice:
- When your children are beginning their teen years, create a Rite of Passage Ceremony. Choose six of your trusted and respected adult friends, and ask them if they will mentor your child for one single day during their 13th year. Let your child shadow them and just hang out with them and at the end of the day, ask them to impart one piece of wisdom to your child that they wish someone had shared with them. Empty-nesters, you could volunteer to be this type of a mentor!!
- Base your parenting decisions on the long term, not the immediate present. Never do for your child what they are capable of doing for themselves. This involves things like tying shoes, cleaning their room, doing their homework for them, or rescuing them when they have forgotten something. It looks like a nurturing thing (and easier) to do in the short term, but long term, it robs children of their opportunities, to practice, experiment, and problem solve in the safe environments that you provide. It will serve them well in the long run. Grandparents, take heed as you can support your children, as they parent, in this endeavor.
Empty-nesters…. I implore you not to walk away and leave the next generation on their own. KEEP LEARNING about parenting, even though your chicks are out of the nest!!! Use your own invaluable life experiences to help interpret and intertwine this new knowledge to POUR into young parents. Maybe your children won’t listen, but someone else’s just might.
Young parents, we hope you will reach out and utilize this valuable resource scattered all around you in your neighborhoods, churches, and civic groups, and not see it as a critique of your parenting. We’ve been where you now stand. We KNOW how difficult it is. We UNDERSTAND the weight of your responsibility. We literally just want to help you become the best version of your self!!!
Lots of exclamation points!!!