The other night, my 15-year-old daughter Sydney, a freshman in high school, went out with her friend Lyndsey for dinner and shopping. No big whoop. We know and trust Lyndsey, a senior. And we know and trust Sydney, a respectful, responsible young woman. It’s not like they were going to a “Sons of Anarchy” party; they went to QDoba. So why, when the front door finally opened at 10:30 p.m., did I feel a profound sense of relief, as if I had escaped being picked as a tribute from District 12? (“Hunger Games” – that’s still a thing, right? #lameattempttobehip)
This parenting thing is hard. I know you know, but I just had to say it. Why didn’t my mom warn me about this? Why didn’t she tell me how my stomach would do flips every time my children were no longer under my protective watch? Why didn’t she tell me how difficult it is to acknowledge that, as parents, there’s only so much we can do to keep our kids safe? I guess you get used to that reality after a while, but when my daughter is playing at a friend’s house and the other mom’s number comes up on my iPhone screen, my brain starts flipping through worst-case scenarios like flash cards before I even hit the “answer” button.
I’m still dealing with the fact that my oldest will be off to college in three years. Three years. That’s all I have left to teach her right from wrong, that she has the right and responsibility to say “no,” that church still exists when you’re in college, that it won’t kill her to remember to get her oil changed, that ice cream is not a food group (although we both agree it should be), that she has her whole life in front of her if she makes good decisions, that she has the power to change the world. Three years! That’s not enough time. I need more. I want more.
It’s a cliché to say that our kids are growing up too fast, but I think we have the data to back it up. The advancements in our culture, for good or ill, have forced our children to encounter situations and make decisions that should be saved for the emotional maturity of adulthood (and even that is not a given these days). Our children’s brains are fed steroids as they learn to use technology and social media faster than I learned how to use a View-Master. Their pre-school shows teach them how to speak Spanish, for Pedro’s sake! Ayudame, Dora!
There’s an old-man gripe here somewhere about kids not being allowed to be kids anymore, but it feels like throwing a dart at an advancing army. It is what it is. Innocence, like so many virtues, is relative to its cultural context, and the innocence of my childhood looks a lot more innocent than the innocence of today. I’m reminded of a commentary I read once about the creation story, when Eve helps herself to the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The commentator posited that what happened to Adam and Eve at that moment was they skipped the crucial developmental phase of adolescence and went straight to adulthood, but without the knowledge and experience and learned lessons to accompany it. They never learned about “good touch” and “bad touch” or not taking candy from strangers or the importance of saying “I’m sorry” (which is why Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent, neither taking responsibility for their actions). All of a sudden, God went from cooing with a couple of toddlers to duking it out with two young adults who were just SOOOO sure that they were right and Dad was a complete Idiot.
So, as my own children careen toward adulthood, I worry that they’ve been rushed through the same phases of development. I’m not so concerned that they’ll make bad decisions; I know they’ll do that. I just hope they’ve learned how to be good adults. I hope they’ve learned the joy of playing (like really playing, not on a screen). I hope they’ve learned that not everybody is nice, but they still should be nice to everybody. I hope they’ve learned that you won’t always get along with even your best friends, but you can still be best friends. I hope they’ve learned that there’s good in everyone, even if they don’t always show it. I hope they’ve learned these things, because I know a lot of adults who haven’t, and it’s making this world a really yucky place to be. We need more adults, not more children who were forced to be adults way before they were ready, and have reverted back to acting like children.
It’s so hard being a parent, watching your kids grow up into adults, shuddering at the brief span of time between their first steps and their first steps away from you. I can only imagine what God goes through every time one of us makes a bad decision, or ignores God’s advice, or blames someone else rather than taking responsibility. I’m thankful God is patient with us, because in many ways we’re still growing up, just like my own kids, growing into this treacherous, beautiful life we live. It brings me great comfort to know that, even if I stray too far or stay away too long, God will be waiting for me to open the door. Because, as we know, parents never stop waiting and worrying and loving.