Hooray, the Kids are Gone!
Children. when they’re little, they’re so cute you want to eat them up. When they’re older, you wish you had. Ahh, those wonderful years when the children were young—our beach house on Sanibel: blissful memories. Agh, those teenage years, when we wanted to strangle them—the keg party for 70, broken up by the police while my wife and I were in New York City: terrible!
Now, with our 19-year-old son, Matt, happily ensconced in college in Gainesville, and our 18-year-old daughter, Julia, graduated from high school with honors and attending Florida State University in Tallahassee, my wife and I have just become "alone together" for the first time in almost 20 years. We’ve got feelings of excitement and trepidation. I’m excited. She’s trepidatious.
Perhaps it’s a gender thing. I always thought that parenthood should have a beginning, middle and end. You conceive your children, birth them and diaper them. You take them to school and attend all their sporting events and talent shows. You stay up and wait for them when they arrive home after curfew, always making your presence known in good times and bad. Then eventually, you send them off to college—and you’re done. Right? I can almost hear the laughter from a generation older than I. But I insist you stop laughing. I’m done. Really!
Last year, when having our dishwasher repaired, I struck up a conversation with the burly 60-ish repairman. When I mentioned that I was close to being done with parenthood, he laughed. He told me the only difference between young children and adult children is that when they are older, you increase the zeros at the end of the money you give them. I just laughed. Now don’t get me wrong. I love my children dearly. I had a great time from the beginning until now. The walls of our home are lined with black-and-white photos of happy memories: Halloween, the Grand Canyon, a cabin in North Carolina, Christmas and other eventful moments.
But I am finished. I would downsize from our four-bedroom pool house immediately into a two-bedroom condo if it weren’t for the thought of perhaps a decade from now having grandchildren spending the occasional weekend with us, their doting grandparents. I do look forward to spending great times with Matt and Julia in the future, just not all my time.
What worries me is my wife. She was preparing our taxes and double-checking some of my business trips that she wanted to have written off. Suddenly, she burst into tears, seeing the date of our son’s high school graduation in my calendar. "It all went too fast," she blubbered. Now I am famous for being sensitive. My family lovingly teases me about my ability to get misty over one of those sentimental Publix Super Market commercials played during the holidays. But to burst into tears because our period as full-time parents was rapidly coming to an end? This I don’t quite understand.
A famous artist once said that paintings are never finished, only abandoned. For our children’s health (and ours), it is time for my wife and me to abandon them. After all, when will our children be expected to take responsibility for themselves? Now at 18? 25? How about 30 or 40 years old? Besides paying for their education, room and board, if we solved our children’s problems, interceded at every crisis, we would be doing them a disservice. Failure, as much as success, can be a major learning tool, especially in our youth.
Very few successful people have not had to overcome adversity before becoming successful. Often it has been said that the group of young people who fought in World War II were "The Greatest Generation" of Americans. While I would not want my children to fight in Iraq, I think they can start fighting and solving their own problems, be it buying a car and paying for their own insurance or learning what happens when a term paper is not handed in on time.
One last thought ... is anyone interested in a really lovely four-bedroom pool house on the river?