A Facebook post got me thinking about when a parent’s job ends. I know I am still responsible for clothing, feeding, and sheltering my fifteen-year-old daughter because she’s a minor, but what about my two children who are over eighteen and no longer live under my roof? What are my responsibilities towards them?
I admit they no longer need me for survival. They cook, pay rent, and clothe themselves. But like the rest of us, they seek advice from those with more experience, and I’m happy to say that I qualify, although I’m not happy to reveal exactly how many more years of experience I have over them. Suffice it to say I have more than a few. I love when my children ask for my opinion. It validates my role as a parent. It tells me that regardless of what they choose to do in the end–and, yes, the choice is theirs–they respect my view and it bears weight among their options.
Maybe you think giving advice to grown children isn’t parenting. After all, everyone gives advice at one time or another to many people that cross our paths from day to day. But what about the lead balloon that drops into my stomach when one of my children tells me they didn’t get the job that was perfect for them? (And there’s the ache in my heart that I can’t do anything about it, too.) What about the catch in my breath when the phone rings late at night or when I know they’re on a road trip? Are these not part of parenting? Certainly they are part of being a parent. Is there a difference?
I’m reminded of something my mother said long ago. I had just returned home from a summer Saturday night out with friends. I discovered Mom sleeping in my bed so that I would have to wake her and she would know I had arrived home safely. Upset that I was going to get into a warm bed (something I didn’t grow to like until much later in life) I snapped at her that when I was away at college during the school year, she had no idea whether or not I had made it home each night. Her response was, “Don’t you think I worry about you then too?” As a matter of fact, Mom, it had never occurred to me that you might worry about me when I’m not in your home. Mom’s simple statement taught me what it meant to be a mother. It meant no longer having the freedom not to worry. This was consoling actually, for I realized that I would always have someone watching my back, cheering for me, and comforting me when I needed it.
To all grown children, no matter your age: Parents might no longer be there to cook your meals and provide shelter, but we are always with you in spirit. A day doesn’t pass without us thinking of you and wondering what you’re doing, how you are, or when we will get to see you next.
So when can I retire from parenting?
NEVER. And I’m grateful for that.