The Best Stage of Parenting

There’s a scene in Father of the Bride that I relate to these days, as a parent of two young adult daughters. In the scene, Steve Martin’s character gapes as his grown daughter morphs into a tiny girl in braids who pipes up at the dinner table to announce her upcoming nuptials. My girls aren’t getting married yet, I’m happy to say. But I get the spirit of the movie scene when I watch all the little ways my daughters behave like grownups when I clearly remember bringing them home as helpless infants and then muddling through years of thwarted attempts to train them in basic responsibility and focus. It has dawned on me that somewhere in the last few years, something took, and now I can only drink in each delicious moment as these kids confidently lead their lives and reveal their depth.

Several little ways they have of showing ownership and wisdom have me not gaping, but wondering warmly at where my reluctant, fairy-obsessed, teacher-vexing progeny of lax parentage went, and who replaced them with these delightful grownups. Moms and dads struggling through the frustration and fog of various childhood stages, take hope:

1.) They give me advice. All the time. I especially love this one. They are eighteen and twenty, so how do they know these things? Yesterday, they were toddling around in matching dresses. Now their care-laden speeches bemuse me as if the two-year-old were saying, “Mom, don’t write an e-mail until you cool off.” “It’s okay, Mom, it’s just traffic. It’s going to be fine.” Pat, pat. “I think we should leave ten minutes earlier. Thirty minutes is not enough to get there and get a seat before it starts. I’ll make your toast for you so we can go.” “Oh, don’t worry, Mom. It’ll get there. Sometimes the mail just takes a little longer.” “Why don’t we pack the big things first, and then we can figure out the rest from there?” “Just use the alarm on your phone, Mom.”

2.) They are proactive about important stuff.  I just sit back and watch as they take care of their classes, their finances, their job-seeking, their living situation, and all the details in between. I admit they do better at these things than I did at their age. A lot of this good management is probably their dad’s influence. He took them to the bank when they were teenagers and helped them open accounts, and I still enjoy how they pull out their own cards to make purchases. I love how they come up with color-coded schedules and say things like, “Okay, I’m going to start getting up earlier.” At school, they go grocery shopping on Sundays and plan meals, sometimes sending me a snapshot of their cart to show me the sugary cereal and the pop tarts they’re buying. When they learned that their college campus was closing after spring break and that the complex procedures for retrieving their belongings kept evolving, they made a serious plan together that would check all the boxes–these same children whose first words were “da-da” and “ducky.” Then they jumped in their car on the agreed-upon day, did a pile of tasks on campus two and a half hours away, cleaned their apartment, and drove home. They had it all covered. Except for the milk. They forgot the milk in their fridge.

3.) They willingly help out. This is a newer one, emerging after the shutdown. But they each cook on their respective dinner nights. They produce good meals without grumbling and assist with clean-up after dinner. These are the same girls that recently realized, “Hey, we’re adult kids living in our parents’ basement.” My younger one chimed in that she was earning “a useless degree.” However, these basement dwellers will immediately agree when I ask them to work with me on tedious, labor-intensive house projects. It seems like just a few weeks ago when I was fruitlessly making lists in an attempt to distill the room-cleaning process into just a few steps. 1.) Make the bed. 2.) Pick up dirty clothes. 3.) Throw away all the trash. Now, the children are finding a playlist we’ll all enjoy and cheerfully moving boxes, wiping things down, and helping me decide what to donate. When we were getting ready for my father-in-law’s arrival, they pitched in with the housecleaning–I had never felt so buoyed while preparing for a guest. As they were saying goodnight to me that evening, they both stood near me, talking pleasantly and volunteering to fetch whatever I needed. I felt spoiled and didn’t complain.

4.) They have a sweet connection with each other. I remember my younger daughter, barely out of babyhood, staring fascinated at her older sister as she chattered to me on various toddler topics. Soon after that, the younger one started fights by grabbing toys and hiding them, because she didn’t know how to say, Can I play, too? You couldn’t find two people more different from one another than my daughters are. But although they’ve always had their disagreements, on the whole, they like each other, and they know how to compromise. They contentedly share an apartment near the campus, an arrangement that would have lasted for about five and a half minutes for my sister and me at that age. They have had some vague idea of possibly working together in the future in some area of special education. They both hung out in the life skills wing of the high school and love their mutual friend who was a graduate of the program. As pre-teens, they bought each other necklaces with pendants that fit together to say “Sisters.” And wore them.

5.) They work hard at their jobs. My older daughter systematically seeks work. Then she is punctual and conscientious. My younger one, while wishing aloud that a life of work wasn’t stretching before her, finds challenging jobs and then knuckles down admirably. She was a hotel housekeeper one summer, then helped staff a busy pizza restaurant the next, learning to knead dough for hours and take complicated orders in a tourist-dense establishment. It was a surprisingly lucrative position. And while I’m glad the girls are pursuing careers that align with their interests, I couldn’t be more proud of them for earning their paychecks in the meantime.

6.) They are companionable. They’re some of my favorite people to spend time with. We take walks, have interesting discussions, or just default to lying around discussing bits of what we’re reading or watching on our devices. They tell me funny stories and let me think that I’m entertaining to them, as well. When I hear the summons, “Hey, Mom, you want to hang out?” I’m there. The best stage of parenting is when you suddenly realize that those little whippersnappers, the same ones who put their shoes on backward, grew up while you weren’t looking and quietly became your friends.

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15 thoughts on “The Best Stage of Parenting”

  1. The acorn doesn’t fall from the tree.

    None of us our perfect but it sure helps to have loving parents who set good examples. All the money in the world cannot make up for this. Looking at your daughters’ picture they looked loved. Did you make those dresses for them?

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  2. 10 Cents:
    The acorn doesn’t fall from the tree.

    None of us our perfect but it sure helps to have loving parents who set good examples. All the money in the world cannot make up for this. Looking at your daughters’ picture they looked loved. Did you make those dresses for them?

    Thank you, 10 Cents. I certainly felt ineffective many times as they were growing up. The feeling worked itself out often in my dreams, symbolically. But we certainly did love them.

    I tried to master sewing, but never did. It’s actually cheaper just to buy the dresses these days.  🙂

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  3. sawatdeeka:
    1.) They give me advice.

    After visiting a friend’s house, as he and I were leaving his teenaged daughter called after her father to remind him of something he needed to do. He turned to me and said, “She’s already surpassed me in maturity.”

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  4. Those must be two of the cutest girls ever.

    It is a really wonderful feeling to like and respect your grown children.

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  5. As Hannah Arendt said, “Every generation, civilization is invaded by barbarians – we call them children.” Our job as parents is to turn them into civilized human beings.

    I loved your stories. Sounds like you did a great job.

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  6. drlorentz:
    As Hannah Arendt said, “Every generation, civilization is invaded by barbarians – we call them children.” Our job as parents is to turn them into civilized human beings.

    I loved your stories. Sounds like you did a great job.

    This is why fathers get ugly ties on Father’s Day. 😉

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  7. Cute girls.

    Good for you to be close with them.  Thanks for sharing them with us.

    I really get a kick out of calls from younger son these days.  He describes his latest project and sings the homeowner’s blues.  Music to my ears.

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  8. sawatdeeka:
    They work hard at their jobs.

    I enjoy your posts because they always seem to reflect my upbringing and I relate well to your thoughts.

    I went away to college and 6 weeks after graduation moved to NYC to take on a 60 hr/week job with huge potential for growth and promotion. My parents never complained; in fact, they expected this of me.

    I’m afraid I’m from a family who values donut makers and I’ve never had to borrow money (no mortgages, car payments, etc.) and I credit my family for expecting nothing less of me.

    Great post!

    10 Cents:
    This is why fathers get ugly ties on Father’s Day.

    My father didn’t. He was da Man and responsible for ingraining the work ethic and as his best friend once said, “Your kids are unbelievably tough.”

    His response? “You’re damn right.”

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  9. EThompson:
    I enjoy your posts because they always seem to reflect my upbringing and I relate well to your thoughts. I went away to college and 6 weeks after graduation moved to NYC to take on a 60 hr/week job with huge potential for growth and promotion. My parents never complained; in fact, they expected this of me.

    Thank you, E.Thompson.

    You sound like an extremely hard worker, and just so you know, I’m not claiming to have instilled anything like that.  Just basic conscientiousness, effort, and honesty when we’re on the job.  Otherwise, I wish we had way more get-up-and-go. Keeping moving on all the worthwhile things I could be doing has been an ongoing struggle for me.

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  10. Older BD (Basement Dweller) is off to a job interview today, as a receptionist at a car dealer. She’s all dressed up and planning to drop off a resume on the other end of town afterward. It’s so sweet to see.

    My earner of the useless degree, on the other hand, is going to go back and offer herself up at the lucrative pizza place, on the condition she doesn’t get assigned crazy work shifts that go to one in the morning and beyond. I hope conditions are met, and these girls will be employed soon.

    And Mom is not breathing down their necks–they’ve got this handled by themselves.

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