Going back to your parents’ house is like returning to your childhood. Mom makes your favorite foods, Dad teases you about the same things he teased you about when you were 12. It is oddly comfortable becoming a child again, letting your parents take care of you and leaving the adult world behind.
I spent the last week visiting my parents, an adult myself, but still, forever and always, my parents’ child. I was reminded of this in a multitude of moments – when Mom rushed for the Band-aids when I sliced my finger, when Dad suggested that I take a jacket out on the boat – but one particular dialog perfectly illustrated the parent-child dynamic that exists regardless of age.
Here’s the setting: Mom and Dad are thinking about moving into a different retirement community and we are meeting with the realtor to look at some homes. During a bit of downtime, I step outside to take a call from my editor in New York and when I return, I find Mom and Dad talking about me. Mom is explaining that I’m writing a book about parenting teens, and I’m uber-qualified because I’ve taught teenagers for 17 years. Dad adds that I also have my doctorate, and then mom piggybacks that I was valedictorian and spoke at graduation. The realtor nods kindly and smiles indulgently, and I quickly change the subject and remind everyone that it’s time to go see houses.
My parents were bragging about me. I’m 47 years old and they were as proud of me at that moment as they were when I swam my first lap as a Shaler Seadog at age 6. Nothing has changed in all of these years. To them, I am still their child, accomplishing great things, and they want people to know about it.
The next day, we met up with some of mom and dad’s friends for breakfast. The conversation turned to me and someone asked about my kids. I was thrilled to talk about my daughter, a born teacher who works incredibly hard every single day, and my son who is graduating with a degree in economics and finance and who had a second interview with a great company. My parents’ friends nodded kindly and smiled indulgently, and there I was, beaming with as much pride as I had when my kids took their first steps and learned how to read.
And it’s not just the good stuff that keeps us parenting into old age. I remember not too long ago calling my mother to discuss a concern I had about one of my kids. I said, “When does the worrying stop, Mom?” and without missing a beat, she instantly responded, “Never. I worry about you all the time, every day, and it never gets any easier. Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” We think we’re parents for 18 years and then we’re friends with our kids, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But we’re still parents crying when our 40-year-old daughter gets divorced and shouting from the rooftops when our 50-year-old son makes partner at his law firm.
A parent’s love, concern, pride, worry, and nurturing never, ever end. And really, who wants it to? It drives my kids crazy that although they’re in their 20’s, I still call them “kids,” but some day, they’ll appreciate it. They’ll realize then that being your parents’ kid means that you are loved with the greatest earthly love there is.