Two maxims come to mind when I think about parenting, maybe because I was pretty lucky until the teen years.
In the early years, I didn’t need maxims. As a single parent, I needed support and friendship, child care, a good job, health insurance, and a bit of luck–all of which we had as a family.
When we were solidly into adolescence, someone gave me a little narrative. Or was it a poem? Anyway, it likened children to dogs and teenagers to cats. Dogs meet us at the door, tails wagging, wanting attention all the time, licking it up whenever we had it to give. Cats … well, with cats, we have to be available when they want attention, when they wander by and decide to bestow a moment of their precious time on our figurative, if not literal, lap. That concept made sense to me. So just when my sons were at an age where I could leave them for a few hours, recapturing a bit of adult autonomy, this ditty was telling me to perhaps dedicate those hours instead to sitting in the living room with a good book, secretly hoping an adolescent human might pass by and offer a morsel of personal news, or maybe even a hug.
The second useful maxim was to think of transitioning from parenting children as a verb to parenting adolescents as a noun. We change diapers, read stories, tie shoes, help with homework, chauffer, and more–these being daily tasks in a home with young children. We have things to offer and say and enjoy, and an expectation of someone listening. As our offspring grow, parenting becomes a noun. At least with my sons, it was clear early on that there was no tolerance for my being a helicopter parent or a lawnmower parent or whatever they’re now called.
As my sons became adults, it seemed that I needed another analogy to walk with them on their paths. For one, a chosen path brought a successful career to celebrate, while an unchosen path resulted in a horrible diagnosis that ended in untimely death. For the other, his paths are still being chosen and aren’t all leading where he hoped they would. What I now know, whether it be it holding my 31-year-old as he died or texting about joys or disappointments with my now 30-year-old, is that parenting never ends.