I have two children. My son, Huck, was born in June of 2001. The day before my thirty-first birthday. My daughter, Trudy, was born in February of 2005. This week we will celebrate her fourth birthday.
Everyone says that your children's childhoods go by in the blink of an eye. When my children were babies and toddlers I often tried to remind myself that whatever moment I'm in - whether it is laying with my kids for 45 minutes to get them to sleep when I'd rather be watching a movie, waiting outside of the grocery store with two heavy bags of perishables while one of my kids examines some fascinating piece of trash on the sidewalk, or negotiating "one more" of some random thing/task/event/jump/book - I'll want this time back. I still try to remind myself of the precious, irreplaceable quality of these years with my kids. Often that mantra helps me stay zen, to remember that the TV, milk, whatever will still be there but my kids will be different and, if all goes according to plan, gone from my care sooner than I'd like.
Things are starting to change, however. The pace is picking up and suddenly it appears as though if I blink I really will miss things. I feel like we are on the highway onramp, and they highway is the time of my children's childhoods that they will remember. The rest of it, what has happened so far, is the part that I will think about and long for, that was, in many ways, MY time. Now the time is shared, and the road feels like theirs as much as mine. And they cant help but drive fast and wish that I wasnt in the car with them singing along to some song they find incredibly irritating. Just like the Sprite commercial or whatever the hell it is.
So I try to keep up - to pay attention and make time and force them to sit in the proverbial car on the proverbial highway with me so that I can remain a part of their lives even though, more and more, their inner worlds have nothing to do with me - they have full universes of friends and teachers and worlds of their own making.
I've long thought that one of the best things I can do for my kids is to have a life of my own. To follow my passions and make my art and build my career and work on my marriage. By doing so I set and example for them, and keep myself fulfilled and lower the risk of seeking fulfillment from them (although my heart will always be an open wound, a piece of it running around with each of them). I've not put a full theory together, but I think my own fulfillment is a component of the foundation to a healthy relationship with my adult children.
But, BUT, things are going so fast! I thought that this life-of-my-own stuff was toughest when my kids were babies and by body fed them and my mind was full of nothing but them. However, back then the balance was easy and clear, and I had a lot more control over when and how I could spend time with them and influence their lives. Now they have a SAY. I can put aside all the hours in the week for them but they have shit to do, friends they want to see, books they would rather read.
So now what I have to do is be flexible. But somehow a different kind of flexible than I had to be when they were babies. I can no longer rely on their constant desire to be with me, but I will give of myself when they need and want me, and sometimes that means doing things I find utterly boring. I will sometimes force them to take time with me, even when they don't want to - here the required flexibility is about quality of experience. I will take for myself when I can, and sometimes when I need to, trusting that I am being there for them more than not, and the more will be the foundation of our adult relationship . . . not the not.