There are so many blogs about raising little kids today. There’s an almost tyrannical glee expressed by people who believe they’re doing it perfectly: perfect whole foods, perfect playthings, perfect play dates, perfect parties, perfect vacations, while you maintain the perfect career and perfect date night with your partner, all which culminate to make you perfect parents. And then, there’s the counter-culture: relax, let go, don’t let the primadonnas get to you, you’re doing the best that you can. My favorites in this category are Kristina Kuzmic and Tiffany Jenkins.
Where’s all the help and encouragement for parenting once they’ve grown and left the house? Because it doesn’t end. Am I right? (I see you nodding.)
There’s a conversation with my mom that I often replay in my head. I’m newly married. Bill and I have bought a house. We’re inordinately proud and have my younger brother (by only 18 months) to visit often. This time, he’s at our house because he managed to cut the tip of two fingers off, one to the first knuckle, in a tire changer at work. I’m looking at him, while I’m talking to her on the wall-mounted phone in the kitchen, tethered to a long cord.
“I don’t know, mom. He looks pretty good. A little pale, but he’s got painkillers and he’s here. And he’s okay.”
“Why are you crying?” I ask, clearly having provided her all the comfort she could need.
“It’s just that I worked so hard to keep him intact,” she trembles.
Oh, momma, do I get it now.
Example. This past weekend, we were all together to celebrate a late Father’s Day and birthday. These are great times, filled with good eats, good conversation, laughs, moments treasured. At some point, I walked out to the garage to find my son on his dirt bike (still stored in my garage, but I have dreams) without a helmet. Twenty-nine years old and no helmet.
So, I say, “Don’t forget your helmet.”
And he says, “Ma, it’s not like I’ve never been on a dirt bike before.”
And all of sudden, he’s twelve. I want to ground him from his bike and ask how smart he’ll be when his brains are scrambled, for the love of Mike.*
Later, the three of them and two girlfriends go kayaking. A couple of hours go by. Then, the third. Really? How long does it take to go down the river from Island Lake? I start texting. No response. Could all of them drown together? Aren’t there odds against that? Why can’t anyone respond?
They finally cobble together enough responses for me to get the drift: a wait for enough kayaks for all, a longer paddle than expected, a wait for the livery to get them back to the parking lot. All is well. I breathe.
That night, they drive home, promising to text when they’ve arrived. The baby is particularly on my mind; her roommate is on vacation and she’ll be alone in a mostly decent neighborhood in Madison Heights for a week. Still. Crazy people abound.
You know what happens. Or doesn’t. No text. No reply to mine. The next day, she posts this meme on Facebook:
Hysterical. Of course, her brother “liked” it. He probably fell at some point without a helmet, so anything is funny.
Parents of adult kids, I’m feeling you. I’m feeling me. They warn you that it never ends. They’re right. And these are just little things.
There’s no manual for the biggies – we can only reflect our own, real, lived experiences. (Yikes.) Parents can’t mend broken hearts when kids are teenagers, much less adults. We can’t fix crappy jobs and worse bosses. We have no magic wand to ward off anxiety and depression. We may see their lives dimly, when they’re away. We’re protected from the worst of it or we’re not. We may see it in full, living color. We can try to advise, but it’s not always welcome. When we do advise, even if we’re on a roll with actual wisdom (some days, it flows more freely than others), we hope we’re not just making it worse. I mean, what do we know? We’re vividly aware we’re not perfect, and we’re not just soothing egos when they haven’t made the high school soccer team anymore.
Way back when, my dad attended a conference, I think through work, that got him really excited. He came home and said, “Studies have shown that 80 percent of the things we worry about never happen. Ten percent of the things we worry about, we have no control over. There’s only about ten percent of our worries that we can change.” This fit my dad’s personality to a T; he was a glass-half-full, simple man and this affirmed his belief that he should just let go. He would frequently toss out to me, “80-10-10,” as a way to say, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
As an oldest child, ruler of the world, Virgo, Type A, full-stop control freak, this blithe dismissal of worry frustrated me to no end. Thank you, no. I prefer to be in charge of my entire life. (It will come as no surprise that I’ve also had an on-again, off-again relationship with turning my life over in prayer. Heavenly Father, you know me.)
I went looking for the citation on this, but it was so long ago, the studies have changed. Today’s headlines are more like “Yes, 85% of what we worry about never happens.” Here’s one version: Researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that eight-five percent (yes – 85%) of what we worry about never happens. Moreover, the study found that 79% of us handle the 15% that does happen in ways that surprise us with our ability to turn the situation around.
Does this settle your mind? Your own adult children, whom you love and cherish (most likely) will handle things in surprising and adaptive ways, during the 15% of their lives when their worries manifest in ways they can manage.
Yeah. I thought not. I see you, friends. We’re in this together.
*See photo. He does usually wear a helmet.