Born to Grow
My wife and I met our first grandchild a few days ago. The experience of meeting, or more precisely, encountering my grandson for the first time resides far beyond any ability I may possess to describe. One thing is and was clear: Becoming a grandparent is a visceral reminder of the passage of time. A reminder of why I’ve become adept at avoiding all mirrors. Where did the time go? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was holding my grandchild’s mother for the first time?
Grand parenthood is clearly one of those rare moments in life that is both anticipated and unexpected. That is, you know it’s coming but are caught by surprise by the event’s impact. Come to think of it, that is what becoming a parent for the first time is like: The birth is anticipated but, you’re still surprised by how unprepared you are for its impact. And birth is only just the beginning of what is seemingly an unfolding mystery. An experience the meaning of which is not understood until years later. If, indeed, it can be understood at all.
Becoming a parent is seemingly an endless chain of “firsts.” The first time you you bring him home. The first time he smiles. The first time he sits up, crawls, walks and, often the most significant first: His first word. Parents know these firsts mark the beginning of a very long journey they and their children are embarking upon. Time marches on and so too does a child’s development. On into adulthood, like time itself, he slowly and inexorably progresses.
Parents are told by so-called experts like myself, that children need a lot. Food and shelter. Caring, nurturing and the skillful kissing of boo-boos. Clear limits and moral training. However, what is rarely made explicit about becoming a parent is perhaps the most important, even essential, aspect of parenthood. Among all that parents have to provide their children, perhaps the most important is preparing their children to leave.
You see, from the moment of birth, children are on their own unique journey into adulthood. It has been said that parents are only stewards of their children for a relatively brief period of time. Their growth and development is geared toward their standing without our support. To express themselves as themselves. We may see parts of ourselves in their eyes but, we also recognize they are distinct from who we are. Parents purchase for their their children many pairs of shoes. The hard part comes when faced with having to accept children take those shoes and use them to walk away into their adulthood.
Like every important relationship we have in life, parenting is an art. The art of relationship is determining when to hold on, when to lighten the grip and when to let go. Constantly we judge how close and how far away one might need to be from one’s child, partner or any important other in anyone’s life. Parenting children, like any relationships is hard. Done well, relationships are more like chess than checkers. When difficulty is embraced and accepted, both parent and child benefit from the struggle. Both become prepared for the unfolding mystery that awaits everyone as time inexorably passes.