Parenting is forever

The words were slow, the conversation dragging. Even through the phone, I could sense a deep fatigue. A type of tiredness I could easily recognize because I battled it from time to time myself.

Sometimes Baby daughter ran into my arms and spilled out her concerns as well as her tears.

“But Mummy, will I ever have any friends?” she would ask, the isolation of homeschooling getting to her. Painting a picture of a full school playground and a packed social calendar would reassure her, at least until the next time she couldn’t find anyone to play hide and seek with.

With Small daughter, the issues were usually much deeper and even darker. Her battles were not for the fainthearted. Her teenage mind was not easily swayed by my promises of a life filled with the showcasing of her incredible talents but despite her best efforts to display adolescent nonchalance, I could tell that she was reassured that I at least understood what she yearned for. 

“Wait, the guy in this podcast is talking about his career in musical theatre! Isn’t that you were telling me you want to learn?” I would ask. The light in her eyes was sweet to see.

However, the experience of connecting with Big daughter is far more complex. At 24, the “when you grow up” future is here and it is not a Disney movie. Life is tough and adulting is scary. As I listened to her lay out the options for her next career move, as we talked about how to create a good credit profile, and as I found ways to sneak in queries about her social life, the truth about parenting being a forever job hit me. However, this season of being a sweet mean mommy was proving to be more challenging than I had expected.

The exhaustion in her voice was familiar because I had been carrying it myself for decades. It came from having to constantly make decisions when uncertainty was the only guarantee in life. Growing up meant that nasty stuff was going to hit the fan, whether or not you checked all the boxes that were supposed to guarantee success. Big daughter was learning that doing the right things was not always going to result in great outcomes, and learning how to pick oneself up when things went awry was a key life skill she needed to muster.

I could calm Baby daughter’s fears and Small daughter’s angst by pointing to a better tomorrow and the reassurance that I would be there for them.  Obviously this would not cut it for their elder sister.

Or would it?

Because she is old enough to understand inequality, inequity and injustice and how the world we live in does not let go of oppressive systems that easily, I cannot point her towards an imagined rosy future. But perhaps I can point to the fact that I will be there for her, and hope that this will provide the same reassurance it does for her younger sisters.

I can hope that she will take comfort from the fact that I have faced serious challenges and setbacks, and though I am battered, I am still standing. By her age, I had lost her father and my parents in quick succession. I can address her anxiety about what she has seen me go through, and how my hard work has not usually paid off, by talking about my faith that it eventually will and that even if everyone else writes me off, I have not.  I can point to the privileges and advantages she has, things I have worked hard to make sure of.

Parenting an adult involves hard truths but what I have learned is that it can also be characterized by an abiding sense of hope. At this stage of the relationship, the teaching of resilience is more pertinent than ever. Emphasizing the importance of nurturing connection as a way to cushion oneself from the bleakness of life is key, even as the adult child grows towards independence. The adult child does not need mommy with the immediacy of the earlier years, but having someone in your corner who knows you deeply is a priceless gift.

“You left home to go to school in another country when you were not yet a teenager and you thrived,” I reminded her. “Draw on that spirit you had, remind yourself how capable you were, and how you learned so much and the goals you slayed, one after another.” 

Big daughter is not one to indulge in fairy tales, but I believe this look into the past allowed her to think she could manage the current challenges and even hope for really good stuff.  However, it was her response that underscored that my mommy role would always be an important one.

“Yes I did all that. But I always had you,” she said.

And that is how I know that parenting is forever.

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