Back to School – Markers of Life Journey

“Whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you,” Bruce Springsteen said, expanding upon this thought with the most Springsteen-esque metaphor possible: “I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out. The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”

Vanity Fair, Oct 2016 interview with Bruce Springsteen on his soon to be released book, Born to Run

It is back to school day here in Nova Scotia where I live. My social media feed is full of back to school pictures and, yes, there is one of my son, taken by his father, who is now a fourteen year old Grade 9 student.

bus

I was out for a walk this afternoon at the time the buses were arriving home with their precious cargo, parents waiting at the bus stop or, if the school was close enough, walking their kids home from school.

I reminiscenced about those first days of school, as a mother of young children heading out into the world in their first real way – on the bus. My oldest child, who is now 25, had a spring practice run at going to school, an orientation day. He got on the wrong bus coming home. I waited and waited. It was before my cell phone days and his brother, who was a year and a half younger, was napping at the time. I was torn – not knowing if the bus was about to arrive or if I drove off to find him would I miss him and how would that be and do I wake my napping child or not. How far from the house could I reasonably venture. And not having had any experience as a parent of a school aged child. I finally tracked him down by calling the school. I don’t remember if I had to go pick him up at school. I’m sure I did. I do remember the emotions and uncertainty I experienced.

One kid off to school in 1996, one in 1997 and one in 2007. Precious memories, all of them. And, I am not nostalgic for those days, I do not wish to have them back. Not how small my kids were or what stage in life I was at. Lots of journey between now and then – for me and for each of my still precious children (with a couple more added thanks to engagements). I’m proud of each and every one of them and how they engage the world now from their current vantage points.

Springsteen’s quote really comes alive for me as I reflect on these many stages and phases of life. All those selves – my 1996, ’97, 2007 selves – they are all in the car with me. But none of those selves are driving in this time. They are all a part of who I am and who I am today is part of who I will be tomorrow. I might need a bigger car.

Parenting Children in Their Twenties is Harder

Parenting children in their twenties is harder than parenting them when they’re younger – at least that has been my experience. It requires responsiveness, resilience, adaptability and great unattached, unconditional love – which is easier to say than live at times. And the transition of the parenting role can be unexpected and different than the empty nest syndrome.

If you have children in their twenties (or have been through that stage) and just did that wide-eyed look of dawning comprehension because some of your experience just got named for you, that is the look I’ve been getting from friends when I say this out loud to them. They know. They understand. Like me, it hasn’t been a conversation they’ve had in exactly this way and naming it brings relief.

When I mentioned to my older boys’ father that parenting the kids in their twenties is harder, he laughed. “That’s because we thought we’d be done by now,” he said. There is some truth to that. And it is more than that at the same time.

When your children are born, people will warn you about the terrible two’s and the rebellious teen years. Never once did I have someone say to me, wait until they are in their twenties! Not once. Yet, this age offers interesting and unexpected challenges from a parenting perspective.

These young adults are ready to be independent and launch their lives while at the same time still needing support, although they, and consequently you, are not exactly sure what that looks like. And the journey to independence is not straightforward or a straight line. It is fraught with missteps along the way. This journey needs to be acknowledged and not over dramatized. It is just the journey of life unfolding as it does.

These young adults, our children, may ask for support and balk at it at the same time. They may want to be close to extended family and want to be left alone to live their lives – and who can blame them. As a parent, feeling the sometimes contradictory energy and tuning into how best to hold that space can be a challenge – because we love our kids, we only want the best for them and we want our family connections to stay (or grow) strong. Understanding how to hold family close and lightly at the same time, as a parent, is new learning. Hold it too tight and you risk pushing loved ones away. Hold it too lightly and you don’t end up honouring values that are important to you. Lean in too close and it is suffocating. Lean out too far and there is less substance and connection.

My twenty-something sons and their partners.

My twenty-something sons and their partners.

As we navigate a new stage of relationship it is important to hold that space with love, to extend love, to not take the quest for independence personally or be offended or hurt at times.  Keep inviting – true invitation, not insistence. Celebrate the next stages of life – yours and theirs. Both my twenty-something year old sons are in long term relationships, living with their partners, launching the next phases of their lives. I’m proud of them and cherish the relationships I have with all four of them. As a bit of an independent leaning individual myself, I value their own journeys and want only the best for them. I want them each to be and continue to grow into their own uniqueness as individuals. I suppose there is also some grief from time to time mingled in with the celebration, which surprises me a little although maybe it shouldn’t. It is the need to let go of previous stages of attachment and relationship to be open to what will serve best now, in recognition of new stages of maturity – of all of us as individuals and in our relationships with each other.

Everything moves in cycles. It is important to remember the ebb and flow of things as you hold intention for your family connections. One thing I learned when the kids were younger was to not project current (unwanted) behaviours or patterns onto the future as if the future would simply be more of the now. Life offers us the opportunity for our relationships to grow and mature. What that looks like with our kids in their twenties is different than what it looked like when they were younger and is likely different than what it will look like when they are in their thirties and forties (I don’t know for absolute sure because I haven’t gotten there yet).

I know I have a new appreciation and respect for my own parents and I have a new appreciation for my twenty something kids as they continue to be my teachers in this openhearted journey of life.