Monday, November 8, 2010

An Honest Look Back



I am beginning to think the scariest parts of parenting are not the sleepless nights when there’s a newborn in the house and you can easily be convinced they will randomly stop breathing. And it’s not the morning you put that vulnerable little five year old on the bus for his first day of kindergarten and you’re pretty sure he’ll be eaten alive by the fierce fifth graders before he reaches the front steps of the school. We made it through those scary times and lived to see another day. And now I’m starting to think the truly scariest time to be a parent is when you’re on the cusp of sending your eighteen year project out into the real world.

The stakes are so much bigger. Making good choices, and stumbling into bad ones, don’t just hurt in the short term. They can have lifelong implications. The big ones, unplanned pregnancies and surprise visits to the county jail, are out there. But even the smaller mistakes can lead to big life changes.

It was not that long ago that I was the 20 year old, filtering the advice that fell on my ears. Parents and grandparents had life lessons to share and they hoped I could avoid my own life mistakes by learning from theirs. I listened to some and ignored others, just like the generation before me.

And now I’m the one giving the advice, and not just to random young adults, but to these tall people who I’ve been busy raising for the past 19 years. I have to hope they picked up some lessons by the example their dad and I set. Go to college and figure out who you are before you get tied down with marriage and kids. Take your time picking out your profession. Not many 20 year olds know what they want to be doing when they are forty, so keep your eyes and heart open to opportunities around you.

If I’m being completely honest I have to remember back to the days when we were causing our own parents to seriously doubt some of our decisions. By we, I mean me and this man I chose to spend my life with. We met halfway through college and when our close friendship moved to a dating relationship I was highly suspicious he might be the one. I knew I wanted to get my degree before I signed a marriage license so we didn’t officially tie the knot until the last college credits were locked in. It was a relief that my family loved him and I was feeling similar sentiments from his side of the family. But we didn’t necessarily have full support when it came to some choices for our future.

There had been some rumblings from a few of the adults in our life when my better half decided to get a double degree, in two fields not known for their ability to support a family - history and antiquities. There was much skepticism that we had any future to look forward to, when these were the degrees engraved on the diploma. But I had faith in my man. I knew he was serious about providing for us and encouraged him to pursue what he loved.

My teaching degree was practical, but not really useful, when we decided to start our family after just a few years of marriage, and I was determined to stay home with our babies. It was up to the daddy of these babies to bring home the bacon that would sustain us for the better part of twenty years.

We have never had a ton of money. But we did okay. We were both dedicated to setting up a life that we both loved so as hubby worked hard to build his career in archaeology, I worked hard to balance our budget with very few numbers to work with. We lived in tiny places, ate boring foods and rarely spent money on anything beyond the basics of food and shelter. And slowly he made a name for himself.

After a few job changes, all in the field he loves, he is now doing very well for himself. We are not rich, by any means, but we pay our bills and still seem to support this household full of kids with constant needs. We spent this past weekend in Washington D.C., where my hard working spouse was honored with an award for his incredible work ethic.

As I sat in the audience, watching him shake the hand of some of the top guys in Washington, my heart just about burst with pride for this man I’ve loved for two decades. It became very clear to me that we’d done it. We had carved out a life from a degree that had some of the wisest adults in our life scratching their heads in skepticism.

And it made me realize I need to keep my eyes and heart open as much as I am telling my young adult children to do the same. Some of their choices might not make sense to their father and me. Some of their choices might have us scratching our heads, wondering if they will ever find a life that will make them happy. But we’ve done the bulk of our parenting now. It’s time to sit back and be their cheering section. It’s time to be here when they ask for advice and bite our tongues when they don’t.

We all get one shot at life. The late teen years are when it all really starts to come together. It’s a scary time to be a kid and I’d argue almost just as scary to be the parent. But with a little faith, and maybe more than a few prayers, they’ll find their way. And I can only hope they can look back, twenty years from now, and be happy with the path they’ve taken.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Indeed these years are scary. For me, I can only hope that I feel like I've set them on a path that is right morally and ethically. Teach them the value of hard work, of making choices (right, wrong or otherwise)and consequences.