In my younger and (seemingly) more vulnerable years as a parent, I had assumed that taking care of a child through their infancy and youth would be the most demanding part of parenting. I certainly expected some bumps in adolescence and in between, but I felt confident there would reach a point at which I could sit back and, having tried to do my best (with varying degrees of success), I could feel less worried, less vigilant and beholden.
Unsurprisingly, I was an idiot.
The challenges merely shift. Today my daughter left for Berlin to study for the semester. Though I’m sure she’ll face challenges, it will ultimately be among the more defining and transformative periods of her life. It also solidifies, for me, that she is essentially and irrevocably an adult.
All of this is good; it is, in fact, wonderful. It’s a true blessing. If I were so inclined and had the emotional and physical flexibility, I might even be tempted to give myself (and her mother, of course), a pat on the back. It means we’ve done our job; she is now an independent, adventurous, and forward-thinking adult.
But here’s the big surprise: there will one day reach a point when you realize you need your children more than they need you.
That’s healthy, natural, and heart-shreddingly sad.
What I wish for my children, and what I’m confident will happen, is that they will continue to grow away from us and towards themselves – always feeling close to us and loving us, I hope – but experiencing life fully as and for themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hope to a live a fulfilling life with friends and purpose.
But what I’m confident will happen, too, is that I will forever feel a little cavity in my soul that won’t ever be filled. In fact, I wouldn’t want it to.
It’s a piercing, unique ache that simultaneously conveys deep pride, unassailable love, and searing sorrow.
Ironically, I bet the Germans have a word for it. Hopefully, my daughter will teach me it when she returns.