I've always tried to be one step ahead of every stage my kids came to. When they were toddlers, I read about parenting school-aged kids. When they were in elementary school, I studied how-to parent teens. When they were teens, I looked into how to parent young adults. And now I'm trying to search out my best role-play for our next stage of life; being the parent of parents.
There is very little direction for this. There's a lot of instruction and guidance for being an adult child of a senior citizen. But not much info is out there for being a parent to grown children who are the heads of their households. I want to know my place. I don't want to be "done," just because my kids no longer need my supervision. I want to be a mentor, guide, and help in a respectful way that honors that stage of life.
I'm at a fun place in life at forty-three years of age. I still feel my youth. The lessening restraints of responsibility to my young adult kids has added vibrancy to my days. My hours that used to be spent homeschooling, washing piles of their laundry, cooking their meals, driving them places are now free to pursue MY goals. And yet, I'm NOT finished parenting. I am still yet (at least partly) responsible for their moral behavior. I am still the authority they must adhere to. I am still the guardrail of their life. As long as I am financially responsible for their welfare, I will be that voice of obedience that they must comply to. (Please, tell me you know this. Please, tell me you've not wimped out on parenting your teens. You still have so much to offer. They still need SO much.)
For we parents who are still very active in our parenting role, our role as boss-of-their-lives, we must accept that unity and peace will only be maintained if we figure out how to play a drastically different role than we do now.
Now our teen/young-adult kids are an extension of us. We've trained them to get along in life. We've trained them to do their own laundry We've taught them to clean a house We've taught them to drive and get about town. So many things we've made sure they know how to do so that they're capable of functioning as an adult, living on their own. But, something else has simultaneously been going on while we've passed on the knowledge of these responsibilities; our children have become a huge help to us!
It is a HUGE blessing and help to me that my kids can go grocery shopping for me. It's a huge help that my kids can drive me places, clean the house for me, help me with the yard, and on, and on the list goes. Granted, I'm not sitting in a recliner with a slave fanning me whilst my kids run about doing these jobs. I happen to be making money for them to spend on their phones, and clothes, and education, and dry cleaning, and food. My stress load has lessened because they are my extra pairs of hands. We are definitely scratching each others' backs in this scenario. But, I have sensed something to watch out for in the future.
There will come a required change of hands if I am to stay actively involved in my kids' lives. So far, life has naturally unfolded in such a way that I am leading my brood, therefore as soon as they've been old enough to contribute to our family's progress, my eyes and voice have dictated our moves which get us from Point A, to Point B. But soon they will be the head of their brood, and if we are going to enjoy each other's company I must become THEIR hands.
As I've pondered this required change of hands I am reminded of my maternal grandmother, *Nellie Mae Butler.
My grandmother birthed fourteen children. No duplicates. Just one after the other. Consequently, she had a LOT of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (At least one of her kids had fourteen children as well. Another had twelve. You've got to read the book about her. Details at the end of this blog.) She managed to make each and every grandchild feel they were her favorite. She lived in San Jose, California, I lived in central Florida. Even with that distance I felt like her fav! After she retired, she would travel from child to child, visiting her kids and grandkids. She brought the most wonderful experiences with her! It was like a fairy came to visit! I'm not sure how many grandma's visits in the world feel like this. But she didn't bring out "the worst" of my parents. Her presence didn't add stress to my parents' marriage, or to the atmosphere of our house. Had she been a pill I would not have these beautiful, lasting impressions of her visits.
As an adult looking back I can find two main keys that unlocked the beauty of her visits. I feel that her visits were not dreaded by her adult children because...
1. She came to them and didn't expect their lives to pause for her benefit.
2. She was a help to their lives and not a burdensome weight of personal needs.
I want to figure out how to do this before I get to this stage. I remember clearly that my mom remained queen of our home when grandma visited. Grandma wasn't a snooty guest criticizing mom's housekeeping. Grandma babysat us while my parents took care of business. She cooked, cleaned, and made life easier on my parents. She became my mom's extra set of hands. She took all of the little things off mom's plate. Granted, I don't remember mom being hyper-picky and telling grandma how to fold the towels. She just let grandma fold the towels!
But, if grandma's visit would have been a power-trip, where grandma needed to be head of mom's brood, just as when she was head of her own brood, those visits wouldn't have been so lovely. If grandma had been all about feeling like a queen, insisting her adult-kids and grandkids obeyed and served, those visits wouldn't have became transfixed in my mind as magical.
And it's especially important for me to note (and hopefully remember when my grandma stage comes!) that grandma came to US.
We also went to her part of the world for three weeks every summer. But we weren't in her house, or even with her for three solid weeks. Again, she served my mother by allowing us to "base" out of her house while we travelled all over California and Oregon. She didn't insist to travel with us. She didn't complain that we were "hardly there" when we were in her neck of the woods. If she had, my parents wouldn't have been able to continue to vacation there. Vacations are for restoration and rejuvenation. If my grandma had made our trip a guilt-trip, it wouldn't have been wise to continue to go there. But she didn't. She watched us grands while my parents took day trips. She kept the light on when we came back to her late after visiting the redwoods, or touring San Francisco. She didn't make my parents feel like jerks for leaving her at the house.
Maybe I'll learn enough in my search for the kind of parent of parents I want to be that I'll write the book myself! But in the meantime, I'll keep my eyes open and my prayer request for wisdom active. I've already learned two things from open eyes!
Someday, help will change hands, I will become my daughter's and son's laundress, I will become their babysitter, I will be their house tidier. And in these acts of service I will have the opportunity to make memories with my kids and grandkids. I want my presence to feel craved, not depraved.
*If you haven't read my mother's book about her life and conversion, get a copy by calling 352.245.3227. It's so inspiring to faith!