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Why good parents become obsolete

“As bittersweet as it is, part of our job as parents is to render ourselves obsolete,” a friend said as she watched her child go to Kindergarten, dreading the thought of her daughter being away from her. How very true. I totally sympathized with that comment; a part of me is shocked that my baby is ready for Kindergarten and can’t she just stay the way she is for a little while longer?

Mom and DaugtherI’ve thought on that comment for many days. I think that, for the most part, if we have done our jobs as parents “right” (and “right” being a very subjective term, differing for each child), our kids will grow up and not need us – but they will want us. I hope to make myself obsolete in the most loving and appropriate way possible for each of my kids.

Someday is closer than you think

I remember when Alfs was a baby and we worried so much about getting him to sleep. We were typically anxious new parents: we looked at all the methods, we considered, we agonized, and we tried a couple – and there was no instant fix. At some point, someone suggested to us that we had 18 years to teach him independence; not every lesson had to be complete in one night, or even by the time he was six or eight months old.This was a reassuring and startling realization for us, aside from the fact that it was the first time anyone had suggested to us that our precious tiny baby would ever be 18 (totally inconceivable at the time). The process of parenting and teaching our children what they needed to know is just that – a process – and it takes time. Eventually, the baby does sleep, eventually the small child learns to tie her shoes, eventually there’s the first sleep over, eventually the older child rides his bike to his best friend’s house on his own, eventually there’s a first everything. Every single one of those little steps is actually a step out the door. Eventually they will be 18 and with a lot of hard work, hugs, talks, love, hand-wringing and tears – and maybe some luck, too – they’d become adults, ready to fly.

Push and pull

In little ways every day, I hold my kids close and push them away. It’s that same behavior we often lament in adolescents! It’s teaching them to do for themselves while wanting to do it all for them, hold on to the moments they are here, while planning for the moments they are not. Even when we are not consciously thinking about this, it’s what we are doing. Doing dishes isn’t just a chore, contributing to the household and learning some responsibility – it’s a skill your child will need when he or she moves into their own place.

Our own mortality

Let’s face it: becoming obsolete is hard to accept. The reasons we make ourselves obsolete are, frankly, depressing. One day we won’t be here to fix things. They have to learn how to get along in the world without us, for their own survival…and so they can pass it on and the species will survive. As much as I celebrate my children’s accomplishments, I’m a little sad for myself when each development phase of their lives slips away.Making oneself obsolete is indeed a bittersweet thing. It’s hard to think about, but also necessary. As I parent, I need to remember this, so that even as I teach the things they will need to know “out in the world” I can appreciate our time together now.

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