Archived Story

How do you parent the grown daughter?

Published 8:58am Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Column: Notes from Home

Once upon a time we sat on the floor, surrounded by blankets and stuffed animals, while I told her about when “Max wore his wolf suit, and made mischief of one kind and another.” And I called her wild thing, and she growled and roared and laughed. We built Duplo houses of all sorts, knocked them down and built them all again.

Once upon a time we went to the parking lot at the middle school, since the gravel road by our house made things difficult, learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. Along with her brother and sister, we went to the public library at least once a month, sometimes once a week, greeting friends, finding the latest chapter books.

Once upon a time her friends came out to our house, climbed trees, ran with Rose, our border collie, and had supper with us. I watched her run across golf courses and up and down the hills of Winona, working her way up to the finish line at those cross country meets. She sang, danced in show choir and played her violin and French horn at concerts.

Since she was a teenager who knew everything and I was a grown-up who knew nothing, we argued — about big things, like curfews, but mostly stupid things, like TV watching, homework and chores. I watched her fall in love with her first boyfriend, then a second, then the third, then I stopped watching …

Once upon a time still feels like yesterday, but today she’s finished with college and has a job that’s helping to launch her career. She’s getting married to boyfriend number — let’s skip that — she’s getting married to a man she loves and respects who returns that love and respect. The little girl is in there somewhere; I feel it in my heart, and yet she’s also gone forever.

This is a year of transitions — mainly of the parenting kind. I’m now the father of an adult woman, soon to be married, employed, with her own household to organize. We still talk on weekends, just like in college, but it’s not the same.

The other kids are in high school, nearly all grown up, too — the boy working on college applications while the girl is probably ready to fall in love … or maybe not.

Boys are pigs in her opinion, and the ones that fancy her are the worst of all. She makes it clear she’s not a carbon copy of her sister on a weekly basis. The boy is more interested in zombies and starships than romance — which reminds me of myself.

I’ve watched other families go through these transitions as long as I can remember. The kids turn into young adults and disappear — sometimes for a few years, sometimes for good. I’ve listened as other parents talked matter-of-factly about grown up children, about their jobs, their spouses and grandchildren.

But I’m not coming up with memories of how or even whether they shared their feelings as their kids moved on.

On the surface they always made it look so easy; I’m beginning to suspect it wasn’t easy at all. The comfortable (and chaotic) routines, the piles of shoes and dirty clothes — those all disappear when the children are adults and live in their own homes. There’s a hole in the home that’s not easily going to be filled, as much as we might try.

And yet there are some good things about how things are now. Conversations with the college graduate are not so one-sided.

I don’t feel the need to lecture — well, I restrain myself from lecturing, which is sometimes easy and sometimes not; I find I’m less willing to assume I automatically know the right choices. She asks about what I’m doing and for advice more readily. We talk as if we’re both adults, which we are, even if I slip now and then and start looking for the little girl in the wolf suit.

It’s not possible to pretend that our family isn’t different now in ways that make me sad, but things are in flux. Her life continues to evolve, and so will mine, as will our family and our relationship. Nostalgia for once upon a time can’t be erased — shouldn’t be erased — because our future relationship is built upon the foundation of those memories.

Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column usually appears every other Tuesday.