Here’s something you probably never imagined when your kids were little: There will come a time when you, the parent, are no longer the most important person in your child’s life. Over the years, so slowly you may not even notice, you will transition to a position of diminishing influence, and will lose the power to make any of life’s calamities all better for your growing child. For years, you were the one to take out the splinter or bandage the skinned knee, back when your offer to kiss it and make it better was gratefully accepted between gulping sobs. The kissing and making it better part works its magic for years, until someone’s heart gets broken or someone fails their driver’s test. Little by little, kids begin to seek support systems elsewhere.
Now that my three children are grownups and parents themselves, I’ve observed yet another subtle shift in our relationship. My time as head consultant, chief strategist, giver of pep talks, and go-to source of advice ended pretty much after they graduated from college (or was it high school?). Where once I felt like the manager of the team, I now sit back and observe the individual farm clubs that comprise my childrens’ families today. But at least I have a good seat in the stands, where I can comfortably watch the action and cheer for the players while enjoying a well-deserved cold one.
Sometimes, though, I look back fondly to the old days, my glory days as a mom, when my children came to me for approval and affection. Now I find myself on the other side of the equation—eager to hear their approval of what I’m doing, and hoping that they’re even mildly interested in knowing what that might be these days.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how my parents must have felt when I was wrapped up in my life and my kids, and didn’t give much consideration to what was going on with them. When we spoke on the phone, they’d want the full report on what the kids were doing, what my husband and I were doing, where we’d been, what books we were reading, what new places we visited. Did I show much interest in what they were doing, where they’d been, how they felt? Sure, I would listen as they rattled off details about their latest trips or their most recent injuries or illnesses. I can’t say that I paid very close attention or asked them many follow-up questions. I’d call them when I had something good to report, or when I felt guilty for not having called in a while. I guess I now know how they might have felt. It’s not the best feeling.
Back in those days, we had answering machines that would catch calls when we weren’t home. Usually, the message from my father was something like, “I’d love to hear the sound of your voice.” It’s something I’ve started saying—or emailing, messaging, or texting—to my kids lately. They have so many more ways to hear that plaintive message from me now. I can even use a sad face emoji to underscore the way I feel when I really do need to hear the sound of their voices. I get it, Dad.
People talk about the transition from manager to consultant where our young adult children are concerned. But after that stage, when they really don’t need the services of the same consultant who used to dry their tears and make them blow their noses—what comes next? I think we’re all trying to figure it out.
They still need a mom though, no matter what. That’s a job title you can never outgrow.
Remembering my dad today, on what would have been his 97th birthday. Miss the sound of his voice…