Kids Are Only Exhausting Until They Become Adults

The dog on her daily W

While taking the dog for her nightly “W” (that should be read as the sound of the letter W), I wandered by a house where a toddler was whining heavily in a garage. I heard a parent sighing and trying to coax them into the house. It took me back to the days when my sons were young and when I was that exhausted. It feels like a lifetime ago, and it kind of was. I realize now that what was so exhausting back then was the being fully responsible for someone else. The kid is covered in dirt and is also somehow sticky and he needs a bath, and he’s never going to stop playing long enough to use soap on his filth. That, unfortunately, is my problem. It makes me tired thinking about it. I felt for that neighbor with the whiny toddler. As I passed by, I sent him some silent encouragement. “Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll get through this.”

Tonight, my oldest son called from college. We don’t talk often on the phone. When he started school in Washington, I told myself I would let him have his space. He was free to call me when he wanted to, but I would only reach out via text. It was both a good way for him to start his own life without parental interference and a good way for me to accept that his life was his alone now. Putting some distance between us was difficult at first, but it was crucial. How could I expect him to adult if I was checking in, making him feel he had to worry about what his mom thought of his choices? Plus, it has given me space to consider what’s next for me in my life. And it’s always a fun surprise when he calls.

As Joe was updating me quickly on his life, talking about feeling overwhelmed with papers coming due simultaneously, I gently reminded him about the syllabi and how he can figure out ahead of time when these things might happen. Then I told him that I know he will get it worked out and next time he will probably manage his time better. College is about learning, and that learning isn’t only done in classes. It’s done in figuring out how to manage your workload, how to balance friendships and extracurricular activities with obligations, and how to step out of your comfort zone to find out who you are and who you might want to be in the future without anyone else telling you what that should look like for you. Once he had chatted with me long enough to realize that it’s his problem how he chooses to complete the four papers he has due this week while not falling behind with his assigned readings, he said he was going to go for a bike ride to clear his head so he could get down to it. “My work here is done,” I thought.

The thing about letting your kids go is that it is hard. You cry. You miss them. You slowly come to understand that your life with them will never be the same. They are no longer yours. They are free and they are their own people. And that can be hard to wrap your loving-parent brain around. Where once you really were the boss of them, now you are merely an advisor, and that is only if they award you that position. What I’ve come to embrace about this new dynamic is that giving my sons their freedom also gives me mine. So, yeah. I miss the hell out of Joe. Ninety-five percent of the time, that grown kid is a goddam joy. I don’t, however, miss being his keeper. I don’t miss cleaning up after him or keeping him on track with deadlines or making sure he has everything he needs for school. Those are his issues now. And my issues now are making sure I have ordered my favorite espresso beans, taken time to give the dog her W on a gorgeous fall day, and gotten tickets to that comedy show I wanted to see. My new responsibilities are a lot more fun than bathing a whiny child at the end of a long day and then falling into bed exhausted so I can wake up and do it all over again.

If you keep moving forward, you eventually come out on the other side. It’s not so bad here.

Back when our kids wiped us (and themselves) out

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