After over twenty years of having our children – both figuratively and literally – at arm’s length, my wife and I are finding ourselves adjusting to a strange new world.
When you’re young, in the midst of discovering the world, you can do just about anything, when you want, where you want. There are very few limits beyond your imagination.
Then comes baby and changes everything.
The other day a friend was announcing to the world he and his wife are expecting – triggering memories of when my wife and I were arriving at the same point in our lives. We loved life. We drove the coastline from the Florida panhandle to Mexico, exploring seemingly every beach and interesting small town along the way. We discovered wineries and began a lifelong interest in finding interesting regional destinations. We, like most people during that age, were working hard trying to figure out who – both individually and as a couple – we wanted to be ‘when we grew up’.
Then came the day we found out we were to be parents.
Still in the first few years of marriage, each of us pretty much accountable only to each other, we did not fully appreciate what a life-changing event this would become.
Babies are cute. They make interesting sounds and find their toes possibly the most fascinating objects on the planet. Just being around is a reminder of how beautiful the journey of life is. But the commitment is 24/7/365. The result is you are committing to being within arm’s length of this new being for the next couple decades.
While the transition on the front end, the arrival is rather abrupt; the exit from this arrangement is much different. Our children arrived with the fanfare of rock star – new furniture, toys, and a learning curve we thought we’d never master. But fast-forward a couple decades, to when children are leaving the proverbial nest, the transition seems to happen in bits and pieces. An overnight at a friend’s house here, then a weekend trip with friends another time and you can truly feel the erosion of their need to be us within arm’s length.
But then one day you realize this stage is harder on you than your children – the realization giving you serious pause. Time, you recognize, to get ready for the next stage.
My wife and I both believe parenting is the greatest calling we have on this earth. God put us together for this very journey. And we came to realize whatever sacrifice we might feel in the short-tem, they alway seem to fade into the background of the longer-term perspective we accumulate over time.
Our oldest moved off and out of “arm’s length” several years ago. In his sister, now going into her senior year of high school, my wife and I are seeing the all-to-familiar signs of no longer needing us at arm’s length. With each day, her maturity and confidence expanding, my wife and I know now each step forward for her is creating an expanding distance between her and the incredibly intimate distance we’ve all shared throughout her life.
I guess as parents this is our endgame – to raise strong, intelligent and independent children. The pangs of separation are, in essence, the growing pains of love being stretched across a new stage. And in the end, our children’s successful transition out and away from arm’s length is our reward.
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