Friday, May 2, 2008

Relating to My Kids as Adults

I'm in Asheville NC this morning, concluding a four-day visit with my daughter Jo (and a handful of other friends in the area). One of the joys of my life as a process consultant and cmty networker is that my heavy travel schedule gets me around to see friends and family fairly regularly. I especially enjoy opportunities to be with my grown children (now that they're out of the house, I miss them). Instead of sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring (never my style anyway), I go to them.

I did not particularly have a good relationship with my parents when I reached my majority, and was on the other end of this equation. My father and I squabbled all the time and visits home were characterized more by sarcasm than sweetness; they were more provocative than evocative. Now that I'm experiencing this dynamic the other way around, I'm highly motivated to not recapitulate the dysfunction and wasted opportunities of 30 years ago.

The main trick is to not get hooked by my children's different opinions and lifestyle choices. The main commitment is to showing up. Yes, I still pick up the tab 95% of the time when we eat out, but now we negotiate as equals when deciding where to eat and what movie to watch. My kids still ask me for advice from time to time, but I no longer expect it and it happens on their terms.

It meant a lot to me when, a few months back, my daughter and I were observing a semi-public power struggle between a determined mother and a defiant 10-year-old. After watching it play out for several minutes, Jo turned to me quietly and apologized for what it must have been like for me to parent her as a 10-year-old. It's nice to be seen—even if it took a decade for the scales to fall from her eyes.

I'm an assertive guy, and I raised both of my children to be assertive as well. This didn't always make for easy parenting, but they take full responsibility for their lives today and both enjoy hard work (for things they believe in). It's a pleasure to tackle projects together as a family team when the opportunity presents itself—like the three days of butchering we did as a threesome at the end of deer season in 2006.

I had a good laugh Wednesday night when I decided to eat dinner at the restaurant where Jo has been working since July. Upon arriving I told the host that I was Jo's dad and it wasn't a minute later that he asked, "Has Jo always been this intense?" I looked him in the eye and deadpanned, "No [pause], she's mellower now." He decided against asking any more questions and showed me to a table. When I later related this exchange to Jo, she and I both howled.

Parent Emeritus
While your kids will always be yours, they will not always be kids. One of the challenges of parenting is knowing when to let go. This process essentially starts at birth, and tends to proceed by fits and starts from there. You are constantly assessing your children's judgment and their need for room to grow, preparing for the day when they won't need you (so that when they don't have you, they'll be ready). Kids need to learn their own lessons, yet they also need a safety net, so the falls won't be so traumatic.

Now that my kids have left the nest, I'm really no longer on duty. I'm just a the retired father—the Parent Emeritus. Luckily for me, my kids still look forward to my visits.

No comments: