I have had a variety of conversations in recent weeks that when strung together in my thoughts seemed to have similar elements. The conversations weren’t about the parent-child relationship, but the theme took shape. It is a central relationship, one that plenty of people experience from each side.
As I became a parent, I started to look at my relationship with my own parents differently. I hadn’t evaluated it since it was a child to adult dynamic. But I realized that my mom particularly had changed the way that she approached our relationship so that it was adult to adult. That shift doesn’t always happen when the child moves into adulthood – one or the other side, or both, may prevent it or resist it.
I used to have conversations with my mom about the parent-child relationship dynamic – in relation to ours and to mine with my boys. The conversation tended to come up as the boys transitioned to a new stage of development. I have really missed the conversations these past years as the boys moved through their later teens and now as I work on forging my side of the adult to adult version with each of them.
The shift really starts to come along at the point that the child sees the parent as a person separate from their parental role, it seems to me. There are glimpses throughout childhood. I am reminded of a period when the boys took to walking over to a flower shop that a neighbor ran and each buying me a single cut flower. I think that they initially got the idea from a neighborhood girl, but then kept it up because I showed such delight in their generosity. They were in early grade school so maybe about 6 or 8.
I’ve mentioned before that my mom went to college starting when I was in grade school. This meant that she was enmeshed in her own homework and learning experiences. She graduated from college the same year my brother graduated from high school. She became an instructor at the same college that I went to and I had to learn to call out her name and not ‘Mom’ if I saw her around campus. (Which was weird.)
The conversations that I have had recently range from a parent of a brand new teen to a friend with sons the same age as mine to a friend who is dealing with the infirmity of her elderly mother. Generosity toward a parent is so rare as to be non-existent during teen years. It is a spotty thing, it appears, for twenty-somethings. And it is hard to sustain in the midst of a crazy-busy middle life toward a parent that is acting more like a stubborn teen.
I’ve thought about my responsibility as a parent to encourage my boys to be more giving in our relationship. It seems to me that learning this must be more deliberate for children of single parents. When parents are still a couple then each can teach the children to be giving to the other parent.
I’m going to have to spend some more time thinking about this. What do you think?
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