A Family Talk reader sent me a delightful email. She shared a text message she received from her daughter, a college student.
It went, “Hope you have a wonderful day, Mom. I love you so much, and you are truly my best friend! I can tell you anything. I can’t wait to come home and see you every day. Love you so much..”
Her mom wrote to me, “It does not get much better than that as a parent. In my eyes, that is true success!”
So much of our parental life we are planting and watering seeds that won’t sprout for years. What kind of adult will this child turn into? Will I like her? Will she like me? Especially after the stormy years of adolescence, parents often wonder if their children will come to appreciate them again. There is so much uncertainty in this business of raising children.
But her email made me wonder, what are the signs of successful parenthood?
Your young adult children like you again. When your kids are young, they shake with excitement when you walk through the front door. Who else does that other than your dog! But then, as they get older, they barely notice you unless they need something. So, when our kids express their love and appreciation to us, our faces light up like Christmas trees! Fortunately, those late-night shouting matches of adolescence have faded from their memory. Thankfully, children are very forgiving.
Your kids are close to each other. All parents want their children to have a close bond. I feel so fortunate that my two daughters, ages 37 and 39, count each other as best friends. They were close as young children, distant as teens, and have come home to each other as adults. My wife and I feel a sense of security. When we are gone, they will be there for each other.
You like your children as people. Of course, you love your kids! And we can easily overlook their flaws. But do you respect their values, as they live them? Do you appreciate their choices? Would you choose them as friends if they weren’t your children? When the answer is yes, parents sing!
They let you into their lives. Some years ago, I had the joy of waiting with my close friend, Tracy, while his youngest daughter was giving birth. In her birthing suite, she was attended by her husband, her oldest sister, her mother and her mother-in-law.Wow! Those grandparents-to-be watched their granddaughter slide into this world. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Those moms felt like they were in heaven.
They pursue their passions. There is no better feeling than observing your children follow their dreams in a single-minded fashion. When they are focused on achieving a goal (whether it be vocational, athletic or whatever) and they are working hard, our parental hearts thump. We feel successful.
Of course, there is much more that makes moms and dads feel successful. But what if our kids are struggling? What if they fall? What if they disappoint? Does that mean that we didn’t do a good job?
Our job is to provide the right soil for our children to grow in and to nurture those seeds. But then we have to stand back and let our youngsters find their own way. It is not always easy — they will have their challenges, setbacks and will stumble and fall, just as we have.
There may be times that they blame us for their pain. There may be times that they are angry with us and even reject us. But remember, they are also “works” in progress, just as we are.
Be patient. They may find their way back to you.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/health-wellness-library.html.