Along with the quiet and a little heartbreak, having kids leave home is a time for reflection. As parents, we have all had a front row seat to watch childhood from beginning to end and that is a gift like none other.
Amazing people, whom we gave birth to, have somehow managed to become fully functioning adults, an outcome that once seemed unlikely. As our kids walk out the door to start their own lives there are more than a few lessons for us, their parents, left behind.
We were good parents.
While there may have been 18 doubt-ridden years when parental insecurities at times threatened to consume all of us, watching your 18-year-old navigate the larger world is proof that you did it right. Time to stop beating yourself up, or wondering if things could have or should have been different. Any parent who gives all the love and does all the work that it takes to launch a kid into the world deserves congratulations. So give yourself a pat on the back. End of doubts.
Parent friends are real friends and those ties endure.
Parent friends recreate the villages of yore. In real life, on the phone and through digital means, we raise our kids together providing the support, love and reassurance that every parent needs. Parent friends are the ones with whom we shared our deepest concerns and fears for our children as well as their triumphs. We bared our souls to these wonderful people. After you do that, you are friends for life.
The little things really were little things.
The piles of laundry the caused so much frustration seem ridiculous now. The dirty dishes that NO ONE PUT IN THE DISHWASHER hardly seem to matter. Even that dented bumper by a brand new driver was really more of an inconvenience than a problem. The daily frustrations of family life that brought tensions and even anger into our homes have been all but forgotten. Although at the time they could incite near rage (am I the only person in this house who ever picks up anything!) they will fade from our memories like the discarded popsicle they left melting on a kitchen counter.
Our marriages were impacted.
It is the rare marriage/relationship that is not sacrificed in some way on the altar of parenthood. Although as time went by we might have known better, sometimes kids overwhelmed our lives, and significant others took a back seat. It was a choice, maybe the right one, maybe the wrong one, but once the kids have gone, it is clear that this was a choice.
We can miss the things that once drove us crazy.
Who knew that so much of parenting was just moving kids from A to B. Once the kids left home it was a chance to step off the transport hamster wheel, where you only got out of the car in order to pump more gas into it. Yet now, it is clear that the endless hours and endless miles were a time of endless conversation. Whether it was eavesdropping on tweens gossiping about crushes or lecturing a teen once again about sexual safety in all its myriad forms, these were moments like none other.
The teenage years may not have been our finest parenting moment, but that is okay.
It is hard not to regret some of the ways we tangled with our teens. After they move out it is easy to think, “I could have been more of an adult, reacted more calmly, not risen to the bait.” Don’t go there. Teens are tough on their parents and they heap their worst on us as they lurch unsteadily towards adulthood. Every parent has moments they wish they could take back, but we would have had to be superhuman not to let emotions boil over, on occasion. Do not be fooled, that wonderful young adult who comes home for a visit is NOT and I repeat not, the same person who drove you crazy just a few short years ago. And it is not you who has changed.
There is no room for regret.
There is no way to know if we should have been stricter or more lenient, if we should have set higher expectations or put less pressure on them. What we might have done as parents, and whether it would have done any good are questions now condemned to the scrap heap of parenting past, no longer worthy of reflection. Any looks back will yield nothing but speculation, and since you are probably not having anymore kids, there is not a whole lot to be learned from picking apart what might have been. Parenting is not over just because our kids have a different address. So if there is one single thing we have learned it is that grown kids still have much to learn from their parents and vice versa.