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Parenting from the stands: what it feels like to have adult children

  • Dr. Claire McCarthy
  • 10/3/2013 12:00:00 AM
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Portrait of Claire McCarthyA couple of weeks ago I went to Parents’ Weekend at my son’s college in Virginia, to spend time with him and celebrate the beginning of his senior year.

We had a great time wandering the campus and going out for delicious meals, but mostly it was fun to talk to him. It feels like a blink ago he was collecting plastic dinosaurs, learning to ride a bike and arguing with me about bedtime or whether he had to eat his vegetables. Now, he is a grown man, capable and independent, full of interesting ideas and opinions.

I looked at him and thought: A senior in college. That’s so old.

But then I thought about myself as a senior in college and thought: That’s so young.

When I was a senior in college, about all I had figured out was that I wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t know what kind, where I wanted to live or really anything else about what I wanted to do with my life. There was so much yet to unfold….medical school, choosing pediatrics, meeting my husband, starting to write, having children…so very much, and it’s still unfolding.

Zachary is just starting all that.

It’s easy to lose perspective in the day-to-day chores and moments of parenting that what you are really doing isn’t so much about childhood, or even about high school or college. What you are doing is getting someone ready to be an adult—and to live a life that is theirs, not yours. While we never stop being parents, I’m getting a crash course in how parenthood changes when our kids grow up.

It’s kind of like when we took them to sporting events, like those soccer games—to which I feel like I have been to hundreds. You get them organized—shin guards on, shoes tightly tied, water bottle filled—and then you bring them to the coach and take your place in the stands. From there, you watch—although it’s much more than watching. You hope, you cheer (even when you know they can’t hear you), you flinch and wince, like gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents hilariously did at the Olympics. You hold your breath when they fall, and wait to see if you are needed.

Usually, you aren’t needed. They brush themselves off, get the okay from the coach and head back in and you breathe again. But if you are needed, if your child or the coach or both of them are suddenly looking for you in the stands, you run down to be there.

It can feel a little lonely, weird and unnerving to be up in the stands and not at your child’s side. And it absolutely feels a little lonely, weird and unnerving to have my son be far away, to not know everything that is going on with him, let alone be part of it.  Even though our oldest is in college nearby, I don’t know everything that goes on with her, either. 

But instead of a soccer game, this is life. This is where the fun really begins. I can’t wait to watch their lives unfold…jobs, graduate school, marriage, family. There is so very much ahead, and I am so curious to see how it turns out.

I know my husband and I will be down from the stands. They always need money. It takes a while to get confident enough to make decisions completely alone. My husband is really good at fixing things. Plus, we all really like hanging out together.

In the meantime, pass the snacks—and don’t make too much fun of me if I make faces like the Raismans.

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