Kids Grow Up
I live in this tension. I am a parent of an almost three-year-old and by the time this posts, a newborn. I live in the same town as both my in-laws and parents. The tension is how to let our kids grow up. As both a child and a parent, I get it from both sides. I understand how hard it is to let your kids fail. I understand the love joy and pride you feel from a child succeeding and how you just want to be a part of that. I also understand also how difficult it can be to convince your parents that you are an adult. My younger brother has more trouble with this than I do (he also lives in town). I see this tension amongst my friends as they parent and are parented by their parents. How do we let our kids grow up?
The answer is simple. You grieve along the way. You lean into the sadness that they no longer fit in the palms of your hands. You lean into the fact that they no longer need you to feed them. You cry because they have their own spouses and lives. It’s hard, but it is good. You want your kids to grow up because then you are free to be yourself, your fullest and truest self.
That answer may be too simple for you so we are going to explore the ramifications of grieving or the lack thereof by traveling down two roads. The first road is common to many of us. That road is the failure to grieve your children’s growth. Spoiler Alert: You’re a helicopter parent. The other road is filled with grief, small bursts of grief, but grief all the same. That may not sound like a good thing, but I would direct you both back to last week’s article on Sabbath and forward to next week’s. Sign up here for updates.
The Road Commonly Traveled
In our modern context, we have learned that we need to pour our lives into our children. We think that means that we need to run them here, there and everywhere in between to ensure their possible success in sports, school, and ultimately life. Overall, this is a good thing. We should give our kids the chance to succeed. The problem comes when we fail to let them fly on their own.
Out of the Nest
Birds shove their kids out of the nest. It wasn’t so long that we admired and tried to emulate the same behavior. We shoved our kids out of the house to get jobs, to take responsibility around the house, to study harder at the library. They didn’t hang around the house. We, parents, didn’t either (think bridge clubs or factory work). Check out the data from Pew Research. They grow up outside the house.
In particular, Dads have doubled their time involved at home – a good thing, but also something to note. Mom’s, despite working almost three times as many paid hours, manage to spend 40% more time with their children than half a century ago. The data can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but one thing is clear we are spending more time with our kids, most likely, at home (in the nest) or in between extracurricular activities.
I would argue that this has led us to over-invest into our kids. Because of that over-investment, we get terms like helicopter parents. If you think this is limited to moms, just think about the dad who has had a shouting match with a coach at the ball field over his kid’s playtime or position. You know you have been guilty of it. The only reason I haven’t is that my son hasn’t gotten old enough for sports.
Here is the deal though, the coach, teacher, or “adversary to your kid” is probably correct. No matter how special you think your kid is, he probably isn’t. If he or she were that special, a single coach, teacher or person wouldn’t be able to hold them back. They would get recognized for their extraordinary talents matched with a work ethic fueled by a true passion for that class, event, or sport. If they aren’t, well we can’t all win Nobel Prizes, MVPs, or your chosen metric award.You want your kids to grow up because then you are free to be yourself, your fullest and truest self. Click To Tweet
Failure to Grow Up
That’s where our failure to grieve comes in. We refuse to accept our child as anything less than God’s gift to mankind. If the child is that special, then our child’s failure must lie with us. After all, we know how imperfect we are. So we parent harder, longer, and stricter. The pressure slowly ratchets up, up, and up. Guess who breaks first with that pressure? The kid does. You are the adult with decades more experience in handling the pressure. The kid isn’t. Any failure on their part is a failure they are ill-equipped to handle. You have never accepted their failure. Why should they?
That is the culture failure to grieve has created. One with no margin for error. One with massive increases in suicide rates. A culture of drug abuse just to escape the pressure of “no failure.” Here is a fun fact about our culture today. About half of everyone between 18 and 40 has the same level of anxiety as some who would’ve been institutionalized in the 1950s. That is over a quarter of the US population. A quarter of the US population needs treatment for anxiety – about 82 million people. That doesn’t even include the teenagers who we know are being sent to therapy at record levels.
That statistic scares me to death. It helped to spur on my first book because I am probably in that half. It scares me for my children. The worst part is that it is all self-inflicted, usually by the parent.
Here is the mindset of the kid.
My parents sacrificed and worked incredibly hard for me to have more opportunity than they did. They poured themselves out for me because they love me that much. They expect a level of success, that I don’t know if I can reach. They expected me to get into medical school before I turn 22, even though the average is almost 28. They expect me to be making 6 figures before I am 30, owning a nice house, car, with a happily married spouse, and with a second kid on the way. That is not just the expectation for me but almost my entire generation. We hear these expectations from our parents. Anything less and we are insulting their sacrifices and all the time they spent with us.
Here is the reality. The average 30-year-old has almost 6 figures of student loan debt alone much less the credit card and other debt. We aren’t married let alone with kids. School turned out to be a waste of time because we are still working some job that we don’t even use our degree in. A car would be nice, but the bus and train make way more sense. That is our reality. It is no wonder, we kill ourselves. We are the opposite of what you expected and sacrificed and hoped we would be because we are the chosen ones. We are the ultimate special children that were meant to save the world from all the crap you and your parents pulled and keep pulling.
The expectations are never lowered, never mourned, and anything less is a failure and waste. Do you know why they are never lowered? Because you never let them go. You never cried over the opportunity loss of not being the greatest pitcher to ever live. You never let the pressure relieve when we didn’t get into medical school after 4 attempts and 2 more degrees. In fact, you ratcheted up the pressure because you were aware of your own failures. Don’t put your failures on us. Be sad about how you failed, so we have a way to release the pressure from ourselves when we fail.
The Road Less Traveled
We know what the previous road produces: smart, anxious, and indebted kids.
The poem by Robert Frost, The Road Less Traveled, applies well to an approach that prepares humans for difficulty. Difficulty is not something to be feared and comfort is not the ultimate desire. Here is the poem.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
What do you think? Is it worth embracing something counter-cultural? Embracing the pain of life will certainly make all the difference. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I postulate that it is a good thing. I do so out of my faith. The Bible teaches me that Jesus meant for us to live life to the full. Jesus also guarantees suffering for his followers. If I want my kids to be followers of Jesus, then perhaps the best way to communicate my conviction, passion, and give them the life skills to succeed is by embracing the suffering which will surely cause grief.
To Let Go
Even if it causes little grief, in my great privilege as a White American, then I still gain by grieving over the things my children do. It helps me let go. It will help them let go. So what, my kid won’t be the MVP of the high school baseball team. He does have a design on his life. Grieving the loss allows me and my kid to move on, and find something else that he can live his life to the full for. My kids have unique gifts, experiences, and insights. If I don’t grieve for my presuppositions on their lives, then they will always live in the shadow of those presuppositions. They will never be free. Mostly because I won’t let it die; worse, because they won’t know how to let it die.
When dreams die, it is like a door closed and locked. It is a part of life, and instead of fighting through a closed and locked door, we can walk through the door right next to it or behind you or perhaps even the window upstairs to true joy.Grieving the loss allows me and my kid to move on, and find something else that he can live his life to the full for. Click To Tweet
From the Parent side: how to let our kids grow up
This is super hard to do as a parent. I treat my son like I did last summer when he was almost two instead of the almost three he is. I haven’t let go of my little buddy yet because I haven’t grieved that he has grown up. He does so much by himself. My son is awesome, but I have to let him be awesome and continue to challenge him to grow further. It isn’t easy because I have a great system for how we hang out and do life together.
The system is outdated. It is time to let go of the system and recreate the whole thing, not from scratch, yet a redesign is needed. He has grown up and if I don’t change the system then I don’t let him grow up. He will stay almost 2 forever in my mind. My son isn’t almost 2. He won’t ever be almost 2 again. It is kind of heartbreaking.
Grieve the growing up
My wife is way better at grieving and letting go with him than I am. Maybe because she works full-time and I am a SAHD, but more likely it is that I suck at crying or grieving. I have no idea how to let go of something so precious as my son. I loved him so much last summer. We had a lot of fun. Last summer is over though. It has been over a long time now because this summer is here. It is sad. I don’t want to let go of my little buddy. I have to. He has to be my less little buddy. I have to grieve him over and over again because he is going to change all the time.
Now, his sister is almost (or is) here. A whole other person that I am going to have to learn to love and grieve over and over again. You know what though? It is my privilege to love and grieve them. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe that’s what parenting is all about. Appreciating the moments, we have, and then being sad when they are gone. It makes life beautiful. It makes it worth living. I would get a lot less of that beauty without taking the time to be sad for the moments that have passed because then I wouldn’t be ready for the moments to come.
I can’t live in the past or the expectant future; parents have to live now. That’s what my kids really deserve. A parent who lives here with them now, not 20 years in the future when they might graduate college nor in the past when they were easy to hold. Painful as it might be, we owe it to them and ourselves to grieve.
Here is what I am saying and not
I am not saying spend less time with your kid, though you and I might consider it. I am saying consider how you spend your time. The kids we want to raise get plenty of time away from their parents. They also get time with their parents. The goal is to let them see how you handle life healthily and unhealthily. Apologize when it’s unhealthy, be sad, and then move on. Be better by embracing the harder emotions and then showing them, as appropriate, to your kids. Let them see sadness because sadness will find them. That way they have a model of how to handle it. Your job as a parent is to model adulthood. Adulthood has good and bad parts. Get your kids ready by showing them failure in a place that is safe.
This is how they grow up. We model living in the present dealing with life as best we can. The painful part is letting them grow up. After they grow up, we get to see the people we have long admired when they were smaller than a football. Prepare to cry a little as your little people grow and mature past you.