“Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.”
“Don’t eat too many strawberries.”
“You know, you shouldn’t take any pain relievers at all.”
“Why didn’t you take something for your headache? A bad one’s not good for the baby.”
“You should sleep more.”
“You should really be exercising more.”
“Be careful how much you are exercising.”
And it went on and on. All of the advice and wisdom shared—most of it well-intended—while I was pregnant with my first child. Everyone everywhere had something to share. From the library to the grocery store to the women at work and the people at church, it seemed like I could not go anywhere that someone didn’t share his or her opinion on childbirth or child-rearing.
“You’re going to stay home with the baby, aren’t you? Attachment is so important.”
“You really should go back to work after the baby comes. You don’t want it to get too attached to you.”
“You’re going to breastfeed exclusively, aren’t you? That’s the only way.”
“You’re not going to depend on breastfeeding all the time, are you? How will anyone else be able to bond with the baby?”
It was enough to make my head spin.
Fortunately, I had parents and folks I trusted who helped me sort through the advice echoing through my sleep-deprived brain. What I chose might not have always been right, but it was right for me and my baby.
My baby who is now 19 and just finished up her sophomore year in college.
It has occurred to me the past few months the words of wisdom that I never heard.
It doesn’t get any easier.
As in, when they get a driver’s license and can drive themselves places. Not easier.
When they turn 18 and can make choices for themselves and the doctors will ask you to wait in the waiting room during an exam, NOT easier.
And when they are 19 and making wise choices and doing all kinds of things to make you proud, it is not easier.
After I gave birth to my oldest child, the first grandchild on my side of the family, my Daddy told me, “No one is going to help you raise this child.”
It was a cryptic message. Especially considering that when she was a few months shy of 3 years old, she and I moved back in with him and Mama. They helped me tremendously and a huge part of the good person she is can be attributed to them and the way they helped raise her.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I understood what he meant.
There are times it seems as though the world is working against me.
And I’ve come to realize that the easiest time of raising a child is pregnancy. Even with all the worries and uncertainties and discomfort—it’s still easier.
After I brought each one of these three precious ones—first my daughter, then nine years later her baby sister, and two years after that, my baby boy—I could no longer protect them. I couldn’t prevent them from hearing and seeing things that would break their hearts and hurt them beyond measure.
Like the first time my littles, now 8 and 10, asked me why people ever thought it was okay to own other people. Or when I have to tell my younger daughter she can’t go somewhere because of her severe food allergies. Or seeing the disappointment in their eyes when something they’ve worked so hard for still eludes them.
The moment I had to tell each one of them that first their Cap, my Daddy, and then fifteen months later their Maemae, my Mama, had passed on from this world tore me apart. I would have given anything in that moment to shield their little hearts from the pain and loss and brokenness.
How time and time again ones who should have loved them most let them down. By choosing poorly or having other priorities.
When my oldest went off to college and turned 18 all within a couple of months, folks were congratulating me. As if I had completed “something” and could check that off my list. I had gotten her to where she was supposed to be, I suppose, and so good on me, I was done.
The thing about parenting a young adult that might be the hardest is the realization and acknowledgment that they do indeed still need parenting. There is no magic veil that is lifted when someone hits the age of 18 or 21 or starts college or graduates from college or gets married—no magic veil that lifts and reveals ALLYOUEVERNEEDTOKNOW.
My daughter has needed more strength and wisdom and patience and guidance and PRESENCE from me since she moved off to college than she has ever needed before. Because while the veil doesn’t lift and reveal all you need to know, it does seem to lift and reveal so much you have to deal with.
People and their prejudices. People and their poor choices that, unfortunately, affect all those around them. Societal norms that go against all your raisings. All the gray that exists in between “all good” and “all bad”—two extremes which do not exist by the way. Choices and decisions where there’s not a clearcut right or wrong, but yes, they do each lead down a separate path.
The fact is, we are never really done parenting our children. As I think on the past two years of being Mama to a young adult whom I’m more proud of each day, I wonder what it was like for my parents, watching the hard things I went through, the things that brought me back home with my child in my arms. I wonder if that was when they realized what I now know.
We are never done.
Shoot, I still need parenting myself from time to time, and I’m not the young adult I used to be.
And in those moments, my parents are there. I can feel them with me. Or hear their words in my heart. Or one of the people who are still here, the ones my folks made sure I loved and knew and trusted, listens and cares so much I am able to take the next step and do what needs doing.
I think that’s what parenting a young adult is about. I can’t really ground her anymore or take away her TV privileges. Well, I suppose I could, but I don’t think it would have the desired effect it did ten years ago. What I can do is earn her trust, respect her opinions and what she wants in life, listen and tell her often there is no story she can ever bring home to me that would change my love for her.
It doesn’t get any easier. There’s no form for me to turn in and be signed off as her parent. It’s a job I took on for life from the moment she was formed well before her birth. It’s not what I was expecting, but the rewards of being a Mama of a young adult far outweigh the hard stuff. She is an amazing person, and I will be here for her and her sister and brother as long as I have breath left in me.
Because a Mama’s job is never done…..and it’s rarely easy.
But it is always worth it.