“These bean plants are a mess,” I muttered. “But, wow . . . lots of beans.”
Our eleven rows of Providers (that’s the variety of green bean we always plant) had lived up to their name, but after four pickings, the plants looked tired, ransacked, plundered.
They looked like us.
I smile when I say that my good husband and I are “middle aged”. I suppose if we live to be 108, we are middle aged, but the reality is that we are past the mid-point on many levels, and this is most glaringly obvious in our life together as parents. Parenting feels different in these days of a teenage majority when almost everyone is taller than I am. It was so much easier when I could put all the “forbidden things” (cookies, snack food, breakables) on top of the refrigerator. Now I find myself asking my kids for help with top-shelf-reaches.
So, how does a medium-short mother set boundaries for tall boys who still need them? Now that we are past the days when someone might eat Drano, does parenting still qualify as my priority?
My vote is “yes,” and my campaign slogan is: “T.V. is not the default in this house.” Well, actually, to be honest, it’s more like this: “T.V. IS NOT THE DEFAULT IN THIS HOUSE!!” (Can you hear the difference?)
Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a balancing act of “yes” and “no,” of remembering that, sometimes, the “no” has to be for me, and the “yes” for my boys. Writing a blog post one day, it occurred to me that I did not know what Boy #4 was up to . . . not exactly, anyway. All his brothers were busy and gone for the day, and he had been left behind. I kept typing, but the thought was nagging me, chewing ever harder, until a Proverb popped into my head: “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother,” (Proverbs 22:15) End of story? Joel was fine, playing with Tucker the St. Bernard. It would have made for a more dramatic story if I had caught him smoking, right? But more and more he is spending time alone, so even though we can’t be “play mates,” and I will never be an adequate stand in for his brothers, that afternoon we sat down together for a read-aloud chapter of The Return of the King, and the blog-post got finished later.
I don’t want to drop the ball on the relationship with this boy, just because there have been three before him, and I’m “ready to do something different now.” Having come late to marriage and family, most of our friends were raising their last child at the same time that we were still figuring out our first born. On the phone, feeling the tether of the phone cord (remember those?), I could hear in my friends’ voices the feeling of being tethered. “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do when _____________ starts school.” (_____________ was six months old.) Today, twenty years later, having resolved not to follow in their footsteps — but having taken on the challenge of a summer job — I still want to be living in the present moment with the fourteen-year-old who is waking up every morning to a new, teen-age day.
Besides just the daily challenge of staying in the game, we are finding that the older our children grow, the more we need godly wisdom. For us, Parenting Past the Mid-Point has meant parenting through disappointment. Somehow, throughout childhood, it seems as if our kids all managed to make the team, ace the test, and nail the audition. It was inevitable, but, nonetheless, a JOLT, when we entered the days of college applications denied, cars totaled, and job interviews with disappointing results. Now, I’m happy to say that the sons who experienced each of these calamities have lived to tell about it, are driving intact vehicles today, are enrolled in college, and are employed. This may not always be the case in our future, and I know this because I have listened to the sadness of mothers whose sons did not survive the totaled car or persevere in the job search. On this fallen planet, happy endings are not a given, but I have noticed a tendency to ride through the difficulties in my own life with much more sanity and trust than I do the disappointments faced by my children. Here’s what I’m learning about making productive use of those times:
- Pray for your child, and let him know that you are praying. In at least one of our disappointments, I was so blind-sided by the “no” that came, I did not know how to pray for that son’s future. I could see no better road than the one that had been blocked. It was time to offer that attitude up to God (since it was all I had), and to ask Him for wisdom; not that He would give ME a vision for my son’s future, but that He would do that for my son.
- Share Scripture with your child — not as a period, to end the conversation (“All things work together for good to those who love God.” We know this will work out, so just stop worrying and put on a happy face and things will be fine . . .”) — but as a cup of water to prime the well, to keep the conversation going. Jeremiah 29:11 reassures me every time that God has my children’s futures well in hand, and Psalm 5:8 gives me words to wrap around my hope for straight paths and righteous living for all my boys.
- Do the obvious — love them in the way that you know love to be loved! That might mean listening to the frustrated rantings of your more vocal offspring; it might mean keeping your mouth shut if it seems as if your questions and suggestions create more anxiety. It could mean that you sit down and help with resume preparation, provide transportation for a while, or offer encouragement in your child’s love language (write encouraging notes, give him a back rub, or bake his favorite lasagna).
Lest anyone get the impression that Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a desert waste-land, let’s go back to the garden. Those bedraggled bean plants yielded an entire bushel which resulted in fourteen quarts of canned beans for winter, a batch of dilly bean pickles, and enough beans for dinner besides.
There is fruit.
It is a glorious thing to see the friendships that develop among “grown-up and growing-up” kids. I love that my boys are friends, and am thankful for the grace of shared jokes from a life time of laughing together; spontaneous visits and phone calls; a daughter-in-law with a sweet, quiet smile; a grandson who melts my heart; the knowledge that values we have passed on and the God we love will hold center stage long after the Mid-Point has past and the End-Point is in sight.
Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.
I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.