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I've been a single dad for 13 years. As with most single parents — and indeed with most parents — it hasn't always been easy.

People sometimes say that parenting is the toughest job you'll ever love. But I believe that parenting is sometimes so tough — and exhausting — that you don't always remember to slow down enough to love it. Sometimes the love is registered in retrospect.

We jockey to give our children the best without giving them so much that they can't appreciate what they have. We try to encourage them without coddling them. We lavish gifts upon them while simultaneously trying to nurture grit within them.

Parents walk a thin line between oppositional forces, never knowing if we are truly getting it right, judging ourselves and being judged by others.

And we are inundated by studies and books and advice: Do this or that if you want your child to succeed and not spend his or her 20s on your sofa.

I try to tune most of it out. When I feel overwhelmed, I call my mother. She always seems to know what to say. I guess that's why they call it "mother's wit."

When my three children were younger, and the strain of taking care of them seemed as though it would overwhelm me, my mother would tell me what an elderly babysitter once told her when she too felt overwhelmed: "Baby, one day they'll be able to get themselves a cup of water."

It was a simple way of saying that children grow up and become more self-reliant and eventually they set out on their own to chart their own course. You won't always have to wait on them hand and foot.

She told me to remember that the more people a child has who truly loves him or her, the happier that child will be. So I work hard to maintain and expand their circles of love.

She taught me that parenting was a lot like giving a hug: It's all about love and pressure and there is no one way to do it.

She taught me that sometimes you have to make time for yourself so that you will have energy to give to your children. Allow them to have a pizza night every now and then. An occasional treat won't hurt them, but working yourself to a frazzle will surely hurt you. Rest.

She taught me that you must allow yourself time to find stillness and so you can be moved by it. Sometimes we are so busy that we forget why we're busy. We have so many things on our list of priorities that we lose sight of what's really important.

And she taught me that my children are not truly mine. They don't belong to me; they've simply been entrusted to me. They are a gift life gave to me, but one that I must one day give back to life. They must grow up and go away and that is as it should be.

But as the time with my children in my home draws to a close — my oldest is away at college and my twins are 16-year-old high school juniors — I'm beginning to feel the pains in my chest that all parents feel when their children move away.

I thought that this would be a celebratory time, a time when I would relish the idea of getting back to me, of working late without worry and taking last-minute weekend jaunts.

But I don't. Letting go is hard for me to do. I must let go, but my heart feels hollow. I can't imagine me without them.

Lately there are times that I find myself just staring at my children, that kind of look that says, "I see you, really see you, and I love you with an all-consuming love, the kind of love that envelops you and sustains me." It's the kind of look that invariably draws from my children a "What? What are you looking at?" They speak the words through the slightest smile, a barely registered one, the kind of smile a teenager manages when they know that they are loved, but feel that they are too old for hugs or tears.

Life gave them to me. I'm preparing myself, as best I can, to give them back to life.

© 2013 New York Times

Column: 11/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 6:00pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

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