This being Mother’s Day weekend, I want to offer the parenting wisdom I’ve learned over the last four decades to you moms out there—and to those who support them. So be advised, everyone.
Time and geography give me a different perspective on parenting these days. Parenting at a distance is what “weekend dads” get to do—what I used to do when my kids, now in their 30s, were much younger. And not just divorced dads like me, but also single moms—on the weekends their kids are with Dad. Moms who hover, even at a distance, have a hard time ever letting go.
Long-distance “parenting” is also what overly involved parents do regarding their adult kids off at college or starting off “on their own.” It is a parent’s job to creatively interfere but, at some point, we learn to back off and butt out. When kids are young, under our roof and in our care, we provide structure and accountability, boundaries and limits—less of each as the years go by—but just enough to give roots and wings to get launched.
It’s never too late, even with your adult kids parenting their own kiddos, to ask: “Why? Why do things the way you do?” We ask, to better understand their philosophy of parenting, never to accuse or shame in any way. Affirm whatever you can. Express empathy by identifying with your kids and by mirroring to them their feelings. When asked, offer feedback to facilitate wise decisions at whatever stage of parenting they’re at.
I am not sure we ever abdicate our responsibility to instill roots and wings, morals and ethics, but the way we go about it does change with time and distance between us. Modeling those values consistently and using teachable moments with self-deprecating humor and humility is never out of fashion, even for grandparents.
I invite you to make your children a priority now if you want a good relationship with them later. I say this with 20/20 hindsight and after hearing from many parents who live with regrets. No one ever said on their death bed, “I should have spent more time at the office.” Making up for lost time is doable but is a hard row to hoe. Better to plant seeds of faith, hope and love while (grand) kids are still in their formative years.
Parenting from a distance applies to us doting grandparents in other ways. More than just the miles and years in between must be overcome. There are relational gaps that naturally grow between parents and their adult “kiddos”—if we may still call them that. Whether in foster or kinship care, intergenerational parenting or life coaching—if (grand) kids are under your roof or in your care for any length of time, your values still rule—but apply them creatively and loosely.
And, if you are serious about bridging the communication gaps, parent sensibly now that your kids and grandkids have cell phones and social media access. I’ve learned that my own kids, for example, will not answer phone calls anymore, but will text and may prefer “google chat.” Under your roof and at your table, you can share your faith and lead in prayers, but not at their place, except with permission. When just visiting or subbing as a “parent”—their terms and rules of engagement apply, not yours. Still, pray for them daily. You’ll be the only two people in the world doing that, other than another set of likeminded grandparents. Praying for our kids and leading them to faith usually falls to moms—for reasons I can’t get into here. I am where I am today, because my mom prayed me into faith when I was 21, a faith I had long-since abandoned.
However, praying and parenting up close and personal does cause friction, which is why some of us prefer staying out of the way. But when a relationship goes south and rubs you the wrong way, be the adult in the room, set the tempo, and make the first move toward reconciliation. Our kids will act selfishly in the course of growing up, even as young parents themselves, but we are to pursue the more excellent way. Which means control your temper, do not quench their spirit or provoke them to be angry with you.
All things considered, parenting at a distance is difficult, but still worth investing the extra time and going the extra mile to bridge the gaps. I’ve got miles and years of experience of my being closely involved, overly involved, and tangentially involved. Now I’ve reached the stage of “letting go” from “parent” to “trusted friend.”
Henceforth I let go of any expectation that my way should prevail. But I’m not letting go of my commitment to pray for those kids of mine and the kids they are parenting. I speak as a dad to you moms, but this parenting wisdom could just as well apply to you dads. More on dads later, as I save Part 2 for Father’s Day.
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