Allow your children to amaze you
Our Christmas card this year was a picture of our family at a winery in upstate New York.
All decked in various shades of purple and gray and gathered on a rustic porch, we were celebrating the wedding of our eldest child on a picture-perfect day in the Finger Lakes.
I asked the photographer if the winery could serve as the backdrop for our family picture that I figured would end up as our annual greeting card later in the year.
The photo included my husband and me as well as my mother-in-law, our daughter and her fiance, and our youngest son and his girlfriend.
The newlyweds held their tuxedo-clad son in their arms. Like many couples of their generation, Dan and Maria's relationship followed a sequence of events different from that of their parents. For lots of reasons that keep sociologists and economists intrigued, more and more couples are starting out together in ways that defy custom and conformity. Yet, at the end of the day, it all adds up to "family."
When I sat down to address my cards, I knew I would be getting a call from an old friend whom I will call "John." He is traditional and rigid, not to mention quite conservative. He would surely waste no time reminding me that my grandson was older than his parents' marriage license.
Sure enough, on Jan, 3, the call came.
It was late, and I was too tired to deal with John. I let the call go into voice mail instead.
John had become our friend when we lived in New Hampshire almost 30 years ago. He and his family took us under their wing when we were newly married and lived six hours from home. Due to work schedules, we were often unable to travel to Pennsylvania for holidays.
He was there to celebrate special events with us, and we were all part of an active fellowship group at our church. Within a few years, both John and our little family had moved out of New Hampshire because of job opportunities elsewhere. But we remained friends despite the distance. Phone calls and eventually technology have kept us connected.
I finally called John back by the weekend. After our "hellos" and "how were your holidays?" John said, "So, how did you let this happen? How did you let Dan become a father before he was married?"
I chuckled and said there was not much you can say or do to a 26-year-old. Besides, he had become a terrific father. The love he shows for his wife and child, his hard work and dedication, his patience and nurturing were nothing short of amazing.
How about our daughter, he asked. Is she married? Does she attend church regularly?
I filled John in on our daughter's accomplishments and her having set up residence in Boston with her fiance. She also truly amazes me, I said. She is an editor, a published writer, a community volunteer and an advocate for the less fortunate.
Apparently, John's son, Paul, is everything he ever envisioned, and Paul's path thus far has aligned perfectly with his father's expectations. I reminded John that this is very rare.
The best that most parents can hope for is that they have conveyed their values to their children through their own words and actions for the past 18 years. Then, their offspring leave the nest and go out on their own.
They will be influenced by their peers, their culture and the world. They will make lots of decisions – some that we agree with, some that we do not. The key to remaining influential in an adult child's life is to stand in awe at who they have become and avoid positioning ourselves as judges or critics.
Look at them, get amazed and stay amazed. Marvel at the parents, providers, professionals, workers and community members they have become. Meet them where they are. Have conversations about their decisions and life directions, but let them do most of the talking.
Listen; do not lecture. You may learn something you never knew before!
And you don't have to agree with them.
John seemed to think that parents should take a firm stand when their children's values or choices are not in line with that of their parents.
I think he was trying to tell me to disown my kids.
We agreed to disagree on that one, and I told John to call me the first time Paul amazes him – either way.
Editor's note: Denise Continenza is the family living specialist with Penn State Cooperative Extension.