I've been a parent for a long time now since I was 18 years old. I can't say if I've been good or bad at it, you'd have to ask my kids to figure that out and I'm sure their responses would all be mixed. I've made mistakes, should've handled some things so much better than I did, but regrets aren't a helpful reflection.
When I look back on being a parent, I start to think of my own parents and their attempts to raise me. It's only now, long after my parents have passed, that I'm able to give them credit for how hard they worked to feed and clothe me. As a parent myself, I'm also far more forgiving for some of the less palatable memories they added to my childhood. I'm sure they loved me and I'm sure they did all they could to hold us together as a family, but by the time I was a teenager, I was acutely aware that they had no understanding of who I had become.
When I left home at 18, my contact with them quickly diminished. By 20, I had moved hundreds of miles away to pursue a music career and my contact with them almost ceased. I remember I used to get calls from my dad regularly, but I would just let them go to the answering machine. He would leave messages asking me to call back, saying that all they wanted to know was that I was alive and well. Whenever I chose to call back, however, we would never talk about me or my life. It was always long, rambling monologues about whatever aches and pains my Dad had at that moment, or critiques of my siblings. As such, I ensured that these calls were few and far between.
At the age of 23, my mum was diagnosed with cancer. She cried when I visited. In fact, she always cried when I visited, but there was no closeness in her affections. Despite the disconnect, I still cried when she passed. When my dad followed many years later I was sad, but I'm not sure it had the same effect on me as my mum's death. There are many reasons for this, but dwelling on them feels empty when I know he would never have understood.
As a long time parent, I understand them more than I ever did. I understand why my mum used to cry when she saw me. I even understand why my dad insisted on communicating through monologues. I was hundreds of miles away from them, my life and existence being seen as utterly alien. However, I know that even if I could have explained what was going on in my life, I just would've received a blank stare or a disconnected comment.
I wanted to be different in the way that I raised my kids, but I lacked the tools. It wasn't until I began training as a psychotherapist that I gained the techniques I needed, meaning that my older kids missed out on the parent I became. I can also recall many times where my work life cut into the time I spent with my kids, but as the only breadwinner, I had to make sacrifices to keep the income coming in. Despite all this, I still loved all of my children with a complete passion and focus and tried to ensure connectivity between us.
I'm currently on the other side of being a parent, with all of my kids except one having flown the nest. I miss them, as any parent would, and it was painful watching them leave home one by one. Those early years of worrying about them as they formed their independent lives, moving away to become functioning adults living their lives have mostly passed. I'm happy that I can say that most of them are friends as well as my children and I think I grant the closeness that I lacked with my parents.
Not all of my kids are close to me, but most of them are and I try hard to keep a balance between focus on my life and theirs when we talk.I make an effort to share my life, but make sure there is plenty of space for them too. I try very hard not to judge or criticize them (even if some of what they tell me makes me wince!) and I try hard not to minimize their experiences or undermine their decisions. Keeping up with their lives is what reminds them that I love them and what gives them the freedom to call, text or pop over whenever they want to. I never want to be a monologue left on my children's answer machines, I want them to know that whatever goes on in their lives and mine, that they have a parent that is also a friend.
As the years have rolled by I never stop waiting for them to knock on my door and every time that happens, I will perhaps shed a few tears just like my mum. When I look into their eyes, I see both the children I raised and the adults they have become. I can see the journeys they have trodden both with and without me. I will celebrate their achievements and commiserate their losses without giving judgments or criticisms. Who wants to visit or call a miserable, vindictive, judgmental parent?
I want to be that fun parent, that insightful influence, a person they want to talk to rather than one they have to. I'll always be waiting with a hot cup of tea and a warm hug, always. Keeping up relevance is the key to every relationship. Without relevance, it is impossible to navigate, to understand or to connect with anyone. If it's missing and replaced with indifference or judgments, relationships begin to die and falter. It takes energy to stay relevant and track someone's journey and it's always easy to lose sight, but it's important to keep relationships healthy and functional.
Staying relevant to our children, our parents, our families, our friends, and work colleagues staying connected to their lives keep them connected to ours.