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Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Headshot

The Changing Face of Parenting

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My days of 'hands-on' parenting (the parenting that takes place between infancy and
21 years of age or so) are over. Our youngest of three kids just turned 21 leaving my husband and I in a new 'phase' of life. The all consuming enterprise of hands-on
parenting changes radically when adult children take over the helm of their own vessels
to travel through life.

While those years of parenting are all consuming and, yes, exhausting, they give one
a true meaning to life while eliciting extreme emotions of heartbreak, worry, joy and
exuberance. I'm pretty sure that the emotional joys and suffering of a child are magnified
at least 100-fold in a parent.

My husband and I are no longer the first call our kids make when facing a big decision --
their relationship partners have taken on that role -- while we do come in second for that
additional wisdom or support that may be needed. But they are clearly guiding their own
ships in life -- ships that are strong, well built, and durable in case a storm or two should
arise. And I now notice that our children support one another in a powerful way -- if one
ship falters the other two shore up next to it to 'right' it or help direct it through rough
waters. It's one way that I see how successful we were as parents to create a loving and
supportive family for them to rely upon -- even in the absence of my husband and myself.

Perhaps most enjoyable at this new phase of parenting is the emotional and physical
freedom my husband and I are experiencing. In the last year or so we have been 'on
the road', traveling around the world for work and fun to places such as South Africa,
Mozambique, Botswana, England, Spain, Aruba, Italy among others throughout the
U.S.A. (We are finally living that bohemian lifestyle as global travelers but now able to
stay in nice accommodations.) My husband calculated the other day that we have walked
or run about 1500 miles in the last year in our weekly walks and jogs wherever we might
be visiting.

In addition to physical freedom, there is an emotional release that arises when children
become adults and take over directing their own ships. Our emotional responses to their
challenges and successes are more steady than when in the midst of that hands-on role;
they wax and wane but no longer hold the anxious energy present when their shaping is
in your care.

We now get to reap the benefit of our success as parents watching each child choose
partners that reflect the same value systems of kindness, honesty and caring for
the 'important' things in life that we nurtured in them. They are each setting career paths
that we know will shift and change throughout their lives but right now are just perfect.

Our roles have changed mostly from a "directing" parent to "reflecting" parent and this
new role suits us fine. We get to be spectators and enthusiasts of our children's growth
instead of on the ground players. They must like what we've given them because they
still come and visit all the time and join us on family holidays whenever a new trip is planned.

Our travels have led us to new work on a global front -- helping those in developing
countries get an education, have equal rights regardless of gender, race, religion, or
behavioral diversity, have healthy happy relationships, and access to jobs. These goals
are universal though not yet realized globally.

They often say each age of child rearing just gets 'better' and I would agree even at this
stage of parenting. We can now reach out beyond our own nuclear family and hopefully
share some of the love and wisdom we learned in our parenting careers to help our global
family at large.