Thirty-one years ago our Ashley was born and we became parents. She would be the first of three. Kathryn was born 3 and half years later and Palmer, our 3rd, two years later. We had our family, and it was one of the best things I have ever done. They depended on us, entertained us, learned from us, and pushed us to figure out how to parent/love them. We were young. We were much less knowledgeable than we thought.
Lynne and I really wanted to love our kids well. We were purposeful. We talked earnestly about how we were engaging with them and what each of them needed. We got angry. We took the easy way out sometimes. But we were involved. We did some things right and a lot wrong. We grew up as they grew up. And now they are adults.
So I thought it was over… the parenting part, the growing part. I was wrong.
Last month, I had the privilege of spending a week with my son in the Grand Tetons. We stayed in a pop-up camper with another father and son. We hiked each day, anywhere from 7-19 miles (I never came close to the 19). Most of our hikes involved pretty significant elevation changes.
The views were astonishing. Waterfalls, glaciers, rock slides, steep cliffs (I have a fear of heights), and snow-capped peaks. We saw elk and deer and mountain goats and foxes. Fortunately no bears. Regretfully no moose. It was the trip of a lifetime.
But the high point wasn’t a view. It was a conversation… or several conversations with my son. There is something about walking side by side together for a long time that opens the door for conversations that linger and go places they wouldn’t go in a restaurant.
One conversation stood out. We were talking about our last family beach vacation and how to do family vacations when we are all adults. The conversations led into some observations he made about ways Lynne and I weren’t all that we could be as parents. I won’t go into the details… but it was said so respectfully and humbly. “Dad, I know I don’t know everything and I want you to tell me if you think I am way off track but…”
He was spot on. He saw some really good things. And there were some things he didn’t see. But he offered himself as an adult to someone who has historically been much bigger than he.
Initially, I was aware of the fact that parenting is still about growing people; only I am the one who is growing. But after a day or so, I found myself more aware that I am still helping him grow… even as I treat him more as an adult than a child. Aware that my response affirms his “eyes” and our conversation encourages him to offer what he sees, and to offer it in respectful, humble ways.
I found myself wanting to affirm him and wanting to be like him. So I guess, in this ongoing parenting process, we both get to keep growing. And I am really grateful for that.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.