Remember that old Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler"? It was running through my head this morning as I was thinking about my children, who are all grown up, all launched. But as anyone who has lived past thirty knows, there's not one launch in life, but many. A pogo stick might be a better analogy than a rocket.
Here’s the shocking truth I offer all parents of young children: when they grow up, they’ll be the same as they are now. One thing will lead to another. The difference is that you won’t be there to guide them.
I remember as clearly as if they were still towheads each passage of each of my children: first lost tooth, first stitches, first misdemeanor, first cap and gown. Those early years of parenting are so close, so intense, it’s hard to back off when the time comes. My kids have generously helped me by moving away. It’s a good strategy on their parts. Out of sight, out of nag.
Yet, still there are times when I feel like that father I used to be, kissing a hurt, wiping away a tear. Children heal faster than adults. Maybe that means adults need even more care when they take a tumble, not less. But how to deliver it is complicated; the old routines aren’t available.There’s no hot chocolate, no cozy bed to tuck into, no familiar picture book to read out loud. Where’s Spot? Is he behind the clock?
You want to do more for them than you would for a friend—more than a pat on the shoulder and a “You’ll be fine”—but children never really get over the reflex to break free of parental control, so well-meant counsel can go bad pretty easily, and then you’re left feeling like a failure as a parent and having even less idea about what your child is going through.
I suppose adult children aren’t that different than toddlers. They want love and approval, without strings. That’s easy when they’re very young, when there’s no conflict between approval and the instinct to keep them safe. If a five-year-old resents being told he can't do something dangerous, he forgets about it in an instant and launches into some other only slightly less dangerous activity.
A grown child doesn’t want to be told not to play in traffic, though. Like a toddler, an adult child doesn’t want to be told what to do at all. So, as when they were young and too high on the monkey bars, you bite your tongue, maybe look the other way, and cross your fingers.
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to scold ‘em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when you’re done.
You never count yourself finished,
When they’re making it on their own,
There’ll be time enough for finished,When your race is run.