LINKS
2018-10-01 / Family Matters

Turning Point

This summer I realized my kids don’t need me as much.
David Rockower


Confession: My children are in middle school, and there are still child safety locks on my kitchen cabinets. Each time I reach in, I think, I should probably take these off now. But, it’s never been a priority. Until this summer. For the first time since before my kids were born, I have hours — not minutes — of free time. I have time to sit on the kitchen floor, take out a screwdriver, and remove those child safety locks. And as I do, I see my daughter working on her latest craft project, and I hear my son talking to his friend on the phone. I am no longer watching over them, directing, redirecting and planning activities; they are starting to manage their own lives.  

In the past, my wife and I have always coordinated play dates for our kids. Not any longer. Both children now call or text their friends to arrange get-togethers. Instead of a tug on the sleeve followed by a whiny, “Dad, can you please call (insert name here) to meet us at the park?” I now hear, “Dad, is it OK if Steve comes over at 1?” They are disappearing to their corners of the house and making plans.

Even when they aren’t with friends, they are keeping busy. My son is driven to increase his endurance for the fall soccer season, so he is running several days each week. My daughter is preparing to sell crafts at the Arts Festival, and she is building her inventory. Both have screen time during the day, but I’ve stopped setting strict guidelines; instead, we talk about listening to our bodies and knowing when enough is enough. For the most part, their screen time is reasonable, and they are developing the self-discipline to make healthy decisions. I am hounding less and supporting more.

In short, I’ve had more time to myself. I’m able to work on developing curriculum for the upcoming school year, take care of chores, and read. I don’t need to make their meals--though my son sometimes longs for the “good ol’ days” when he was too young to use the serrated knife or operate the toaster oven. “Being a teenager is more work,” he jokes. My daughter notices my free time now. “Dad, what are you going to do all day?” she asks.

I won’t lie; I felt a bit nostalgic this summer. I already miss the things that used to frustrate me: little voices begging me to play Candy Land, to put together another leaf collection, to set up cones in the yard for an imaginary soccer tournament. I miss going to the park, sitting on a bench, watching them climb to the top of the slide and shout, “Dad! Watch me go down!” I miss dumping the mulch out of their shoes six times in a half-hour. I miss tickling their sides as I push them on the swing, so high they think they’ll go upside down. I know I used to complain about all of this and how difficult it was to get any work done when they needed me all the time. Now, they are beginning to not need me, and I have mixed feelings.

This is part of the process. I knew it was coming, but maybe not so fast. They are still, in some ways, so young. But they are carving out their own spaces, making decisions, and tasting what life will be like without parents dictating and monitoring their choices. For that, I am proud. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’ll miss it all. The snotty faces, the silly whining and fighting, the spontaneous hugs.

Maybe when people say, “They grow up so fast,” what they are really saying is, “Someday you’re going to wish you could have just one more moment of this mess.” When I see younger parents struggling with their kids in shopping carts, trying to hide their frustration, I want to tell them it’s OK. I’ve been there.

Before you can remove those safety child locks from your kitchen cabinets, they will be teenagers, and you will find yourself gawking at these young adult versions of your babies, walking with purpose through your home. •SCM

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