It's always fascinated me how many different cycles life's relationships have, and how constant many of them are from culture to culture. One of those "whapped" me right in the face last month.
When we have children, the parent/child relationship is established naturally. I suppose the urge, the need, to love and care for our babies is somewhere in our DNA. We sustain our babies when they're young, guide them as they grow, teach them as they mature, and pray that we don't destroy them as they transition into their teens. Even after they move out of their teens, we are still parents, offering advice and nurturing them as our young adults start to make those important decisions and face those seminal moments that frame their adult lives.
However, after they survive those rites of passage, at some point the parent/child relationship somehow becomes one of equals. Friends, in a way--even best friends. Confidants. Each of you knows, implicitly, that you can rely on the other for anything. This past week, I passed into that next life cycle with my son.
You guys know my son: The Officer (I've blogged about him often). He's a police officer in a beautiful city about 3 hours by road from here. He is now very established in his career, does okay in the paycheck department, and thanks to the wisdom of his wife, my Adorable Daughter-In-Law (the ADIL), has a few bucks in the bank. They recently bought their first house and have remodeled/restored it just beautifully. Now I've visited them for the weekend before, but it was always Dad visiting Son/Wife. This visit was different.
This trip, we weren't talking about what he should do in his career, but what he is doing in his career. It wasn't about what he wanted his plans for the future to be, but how he was working towards his future plans. It wasn't "what are you making us for dinner?" but "where do you want US to take YOU for dinner?" It wasn't me telling the server "I'll take the check!" but The Officer yelling to the waitress "the check is mine!" To an observer, it looked like a couple of friends just enjoying each other's company. Now, I realize that to the uninitiated this may sound trivial, but speaking for all of us who have hit this fulcrum point in the relationship with our children, this represents a change in our emotional landscape on a tectonic scale.
It means our babies have grown up. They no longer need us, at least not to sustain and nurture them. We've moved from Parent/Child to a relationship of equals (if structured by "seniority"). And, I have to say...after the shock of the realization, I am totally digging it. I don't have to brace myself for their trips home to wreck my monthly budget. I don't need to keep a free bedroom in the back of my house in case he and the ADIL need to move back home. They've got their home now--and both are happy and secure in it.
So for now, I've made my peace with this "status change" in my relationship with The Officer and the ADIL. However, lurking in the back of my mind is the realization that this puts us one step closer to the final role change we all have with our children--and it's not one that I'm looking forward to. It's the role reversal: when the parent becomes the child, and the child becomes the parent. Having gone through that with my Mom over the past decade or so, I still have uncomfortable memories of the awkwardness and conflict that "trading places" caused. But I also remember what got us through it without killing each other--and that's the love and trust we'd placed in each other our entire lives. Hopefully, I'll keep that piece of wisdom in my "back pocket" and remember to pull it out and put it to good use when that reversal of roles happens to me, and to The Officer.