Our Story Begins:
It’s a Parenting Relationship
I got one of the greatest compliments in years last night.
It wasn’t about my clothes or my weight or how I held myself. It wasn’t from a colleague or even a friend. I got one of the greatest compliments from my oldest daughter.
The woman you see holding the baby (her cousin, just about 6 months-old then) is my oldest daughter, Abbi. She is prepping this weekend to move back into the dorms for her second year in college. Like happens a lot in my family when a change means someone leaving the house for awhile-she was a bit melancholy about the whole thing. It wasn’t the move back to school or even the fact that she had to leave home. She’s okay with both those things. It’s just being away from everyone.
To give you some context: my wife, Andrea, passed away three years ago. The bigger issue for her, though, was the fact that her mother was dead set against her daughter doing anything in the arts. It wasn’t that Andrea disliked the arts. We had some hard financial times early in our marriage and Abbi was born after we’d been married only a year. As a result we struggled often. This led her to a conclusion: happiness was measured in success. I fought this, constantly telling my children that success was measured in happiness. We had a big house, dual income, and lots of “stuff.” None of that really made us happy. In fact, it was quite often the opposite. The more we had the more we spent then the more we argued . . . and the circle continued.
Fast forward to the college search and the move to make a decision for a major. Abbi had to come to terms with the pressure from a mother who is no longer here or the looming blank pages of her life’s story still to come. In the end, with my support, she chose what would make her happy-theater and drama. The caveat from me was knowledge: the knowledge that she’d have to work really hard; the knowledge that she’ll have to network herself over and over again; the knowledge that she’ll have to work really hard (yeah, I said it already, it reinforces a point); the knowledge that she may work other jobs to survive while she tries to achieve her career.
As we packed up for our trip back to school today she admitted she was a bit down. It’s in the midst of this I got the compliment.
Several of her friends said: they come home from college and feel like a stranger in their own home.
“I’m not sad to go back to school,” she said. “I love what I’m doing. I just hate leaving you guys. I never feel that way with you. Maybe I just have a strange relationship with you.”
The one word said it all. I have always treated parenting my kids like a relationship. Not a “romantic” one . . . a relationship in general. You have to speak, you’re in charge, sure, but you listen as much as you talk. Kids aren’t stupid, they just don’t have our level of experience. I spend time with them when I am at home, whether we go on some familial adventure or we clean the house we’re together. Spending time with me and her siblings or with my parents never feels foreign, even after being in her new college home for most the year.
Being a parent and loving your children is as much a relationship as the one you have with your spouse. It’s not the same relationship, but it’s a relationship nonetheless. I told my daughter that, too. I choose to spend time with them and I am committed and present when we’re together.
So It’s the greatest compliment a parent can receive when your kids tell you . . . No matter where they are, when they come back, wherever I am . . . they’re always home.
What about you? Do you have a relationship with your kids? Are you present or distant?