Every parenting season requires one key ingredient: flexibility.
Something no one told me about sending children to college is this: they come back and forth.
Now, you might think, “Well, duh!”
But I didn’t actually realize this was going to happen. And, of course, I welcome them back into our home every time. They are precious to me, whether they are toddling around in their off-the-charts cuteness, or rolling out of bed on a Saturday, grown bodies and disheveled hair, just catching the last glimpses of the morning.
My point here is there are so many things in parenting no one ever really tells you will happen, and then, they do.
Beginning the parenting journey
Maybe it’s just me, but I honestly thought my first little one, at six months, would sit and play contently with his toys, after I had taken care of feeding, changing, snuggling and reading to him. Then I could turn to my work (at the time I was a freelance translator) and it would all go swimmingly. Right?
Because within half a minute, the kid caught on. I was no longer giving him my full attention. It’s amazing how a 20lb (9kg) bundle of energy can change everything in your world. Work needed to be approached in new ways.
And I struggled. We found ways to make it happen. But I remember how difficult it was for me.
My husband’s a high school teacher; he has to report in at a specific time and be in a specific location for many hours Monday–Friday.
Me? I had the more flexible job (and still do). I made my own hours, fitting them in around all the other demands. And, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It did work for our family, but it was often challenging.
Middle school – a new challenge
Fast-forward many years to when our youngest was in middle school. Ah, yes – middle school, the years of challenge, for sure. In reality, though, the challenges with our youngest, Luke, were not what you might imagine. That is because Luke developed migraines.
At first, we really didn’t know what was happening. Actually, we first saw signs of things going awry during the year we lived in China as a family. (That would be Luke’s 4th-grade year.) And some of it happened while he was in 5th grade, I won’t deny.
But it was when Luke was in middle school (grades 6–8 here) when the struggle peaked. After trying to figure out what was going on throughout Luke’s 5th-grade year (we went everywhere from infectious diseases to junior rheumatoid arthritis and have the hospital bills that year to prove it), we finally realized Luke had inherited migraines through my husband’s side. In fact, Luke’s maternal grandmother had suffered from debilitating migraines as a child.
This all started to make sense.
Luke missed over 100 days of school during his middle-school years. 100+! What did that mean?
It meant many phone calls to pick him up and him occupying a place on a small couch in our family room so often that everyone else came to see it as “Luke’s place.”
It meant several times cancelling work trips I had – or getting halfway there (by car) and returning.
It meant, on occasion, my husband going down to the middle school, picking Luke up and bringing him back up to his classroom to rest behind his desk. (This only worked while he was a little guy in 6th and early 7th grade. Once he got bigger, we had to stop that for we didn’t want him to develop a stigma when he moved up to the high school.)
It meant constantly keeping on top of his work and communicating with his teachers. And then trying to help Luke learn the material, sometimes as he was struggling with the headaches.
It meant the tyranny of the red boxes – essentially, missed assignments – showing up again and again in the online grading system. We would work away at eliminating those red boxes, only to find them cropping up again with the next round of migraine.
And, eventually, all this led to some counseling for Dale, Luke and me. This struggle took a toll, even on our marriage. One thing the counselor said I’ll never forget: “Usually, in cases like this, there is one spouse or partner who has a more rigid work schedule, and one who has a more flexible one. It is easy for the latter to feel resentful because it seems as if he/she is carrying most of the load.”
He had hit the nail right on the head.
Simply being aware of that made all the difference for both of us.
I’m happy to say, Luke mostly “outgrew” his migraines during his sophomore year in high school. He still recognizes he can be susceptible, but he now knows how to handle it proactively, before it gets bad.
This is good, since he’s now off mostly on his own.
Except when he’s not. Like over this winter break.
Fast-forward to now
We’ve had two of our three adult children with us during the holidays. My husband and I treasure their presence and I would always welcome them “back” anytime, no question.
But we're also loving the “empty nest” we’re beginning to experience.
What we both know now, though, is that the “empty nest” empties and fills according to the season. And we need to have a flexible mind and heart as we travel through it all.
It’s empty in my house now as I write this. But when I scheduled it, my home was full. And then, when you read this on my blog, my home will be a third full. And then, empty again.
Learning to savor what is – and what will be next week, for example – has become my mainstay.
Look ahead, but don’t miss the now, the gift(s) right in front of us. That's what I'm choosing, in this season and the next.
How have you adjusted to the varying seasons in your parenting life? And, if you are from a different culture, how does this all work for you?