I heard a story on MPR that was done by a 17-year-old father. He was recounting how his life had changed since the birth of his daughter a year ago, as well as that of his family. His father took off after three of his own sons became fathers around 16 years old. He had a brief telephone interview with his dad, who said that he was always a phone call away and if they felt he wasn’t around enough that it was their own fault for not contacting him. It also briefly touched upon the young mother’s life, who was 19 at the time of the child’s birth. She cried as she told of how her father was never there as she grew up. She spoke of how jealous she was of friends whose fathers picked them up from places and gave them hugs when they needed them.
Overall, the story was good. This kid, who initially had no clue how to be a father, is making steps towards being a real part of his daughter’s life. Good on him. But the real lesson, I feel, needs to be underscored — and it goes for both sexes.
Your job as a parent never ends; It changes, it evolves, but never truly ends. Even when you’ve successfully allowed your child to live for 18 years and get a diploma, you’re not done. If you end up walking away and leaving your children to effectively fend for themselves, you’re doing them a disservice beyond measure. This world can really suck — everyone knows that. But when you have a family you can turn to, it sucks a lot less.
Being a parent is no easier, nor is it any harder when your kid is 8 months or 18 years or any span between. The challenges are just different and you’ve got to learn how to adapt. You need to find a way to look at the world through those young eyes once more, when you were young, terrified, invincible and stupid. Remember that feeling of being utterly confused yet completely convinced of how right you were? Guess who’s going through that now. They need you to be their conscience, their sounding block, their occasional verbal punching bag and the arms that hold them close in understanding when they feel like the world is against them.
But really, is that much harder than waking up every 45 minutes to change a diaper and rock a baby back to sleep?
Is it any harder than trying to clean crayon scribbles all over your brand new painted walls?
Is it any harder than sending them outside to play and trust they don’t pull up your flowerbed but end up tracking mud all over the house?
Is it any harder than wiping their tears away when they’ve fallen and scraped up their elbows really bad?
Is it any harder than trying to get them to just sit down and do their spelling words for the umpteenth time?
Not really. It’s just different.
Even if your folks weren’t there for you, you can be better than them and be there for these young adults. Yes, they can grow up and be “adults” at different times. But that’s why I call it adapting — there is no manual for this.
If there is, it’s a simple one-line instruction: Be there for them.