In Part 2 of Relating to Our Adult Children, Jim shares his views on parenting past and present.
My closest friends and family tease me that I’m everyone’s dad. My kids grew up knowing that there is no conflict in having “second” moms and dads. I am grateful for the many good parents of my son and daughter’s childhood friends. They were there to carpool, babysit, and cheer for them at concerts and ballgames. They were also there to guide, comfort, teach, and give the occasional kick in the ass.
For better and for worse, my kid’s friends knew that I was the one adult they could go to with any question or problem and I’d give them honest answers. This worried my poor wife and not without cause. I was more than cavalier about it. I have always believed that what a kid doesn’t know can and will hurt them. So I gave advice on birth control, sex, sexuality, how to deal with your unreasonable boy/girlfriend, and how to not do drugs but if you really must smoke a joint here’s how to be safe about it.
Truth to tell, I usually enjoyed the company of the kids more than the parents. Kids know more about having fun and they taught me a great deal. I learned to appreciate their music, their way of seeing the world, and got their feedback on what’s wrong with parents these days. It was fun.
Then my friends grew up and left home.
I have never cried as long or hard as the day my son moved out except possibly on the day I left my daughter in her new dorm room. I knew that I’d been gradually letting go for years and yet the finality of it was heart wrenching. I worried that they’d need me and I worried they wouldn’t. It took a long time for me to adjust but they seemed to handle it just fine.
That’s the problem with kids – you raise them to be feel loved and secure, to be confident, independent and to believe in themselves and then THEY DO.
I miss being needed the way my children needed me when they were young. I miss throwing ten thousand balls of every kind to my son. I miss my daughter being 5 and telling me that we would get married some day. I miss being silly and eating Chinese take out in front of the television. I miss them teaching me how to be in the moment and how to accept love.
You see, once upon a time I associated being needed with being loved.
Thank God I got into therapy (as a client first). I learned that I could be loved without being needed. I learned that I could be appreciated not only for what I do but for who I am. My kids love me for who I am, and to them, I was almost always at my best.
There are many people in my life who I’m a better man for knowing but the three greatest influences in my life remain my son, my daughter, and my wife. They taught me how to love.
My babies turn 23 and 24 this month. They continue to make me prouder than anything ever could.
Weird thing about me (well, one of many): I’ve had my palm read many times (I know a lot of eclectic folks) and they always determine that I have three children. My theory on this became I have two and I have every child, adolescent, or young adult that I happen to be interacting with today.
“We see things not as they are but as we are” – Anais Nin
I see young adults (“young” is a moving target) through the eyes of a father. When I remember being young as a man, as a husband, and as a dad I vividly remember being scared shitless and I have endless sympathy for those going through the firsts in life.
Every so often I ask my wife if we can adopt some of the kids I work with. I serve amazingly talented and brilliant teens and young adults who come from unhealthy families. I maintain professionalism while I’m with them, but in my heart I want to give each of them a safe home and a family to be a part of.
I like the slackers, stoners, misfits, freaks and I especially love the bad kids. I was all of those. I like the kids who had to hide their true selves and I love helping them discover who they really are. Relating to them is simple – they want to be treated like adults because they never got to be kids. I respect them and tell them what I see realistically and clinically. Then I tell them what a good dad would. That they’re worth it.
A 50 minute hour is a lousy substitute for having a good mom or dad. I’m not going to go so far as to proclaim, “It takes a village!” Instead I’ll say that relating to adult children has enriched my life endlessly – be they my kids or someone else’s. Kindred spirits recognize one another and the more we connect the more we all flourish.