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The meaning of parenthood.

I knew 2007 was coming. Last fall, I wrote it on post-dated cheques for the girls music teachers, so I knew it was only a matter of time. But when I wrote the date for the first time in January, it hit me. This is the year. After 18? years of parenthood, wondering (sometimes aloud) when she was going to "grow up," this is the year we will see our oldest child leave home.

For those of you made queasy by sentimentality, feel free to move on now--it's only going to get worse. There will be some bragging and a few regrets. I will naturally employ a few cliches: it all happened so fast. Where did my baby go? They grow up too quickly. Love them while you have the chance. Those of you who have survived the experience might sympathize with me ("Oh yes, I remember how I cried at the airport ..."), or you might scoff ("What's the big deal? Good riddance.")

I find it bittersweet. I feel sad that we are down to our last few months of being "at home" together as a family. I regret the mistakes I made as a new mother; I wish I could re-live many moments, so as to savour them more fully. I will truly miss her, and not only because (Warning: Boasting Ahead) she cooks, cleans, does laundry and drives her younger siblings to music lessons.

She is funny, vivacious, intelligent and independent. This has made for lots of laughter, lively debates, and frustrating arguments. I love to hear her sing (although I usually have to go to a public recital to hear her; she refuses to sing at home). I wish I'd had her study habits and work ethic when I was in university. Heck, I wish I had them now. The times when she has been irresponsible (and made us worried or angry) pale in comparison to what I as a teen put my folks through. The strength of her faith and the courage of her witness inspire her younger siblings (not to mention her parents).

On the other hand, my daughter and I are both ready for this transition. She, for all of the above reasons; I, because it's really hard to be the woman of the house when you've got competition. I don't know how polygamists do it. With an eldest daughter, you go from wondering when she's going to start talking, to wondering when she's going to stop. You delight in those first baby coos of "Mama;" a few short years later, you tire of hearing about the inferiority of your methods of cooking, cleaning, laundry, driving, and managing the younger siblings. "Mom, you're spoiling her!" she says of the toddler, quite missing the point that any teenager who so relentlessly criticizes her own mother is also "spoiled."

Quite frankly, I don't know how parents can endure living with adult children, unless they (the children) never venture an opinion on anything the parents say, think or do (in which case I'd have to wonder how they arranged for the lobotomy and what it cost). I realize that sometimes, living with Mom and Pop is just the way it works out--living off them is pathological. It is not only antisocial but unscriptural. As parents, we are supposed to "go forth and multiply" and raise our children to do the same. A healthy society and the growth of the Church depend upon it.

Keeping one's children in an eternal state of childhood stunts their emotional and spiritual growth. I don't want my children to choose Christ or obey the Commandments just because I told them to. I want my children to know him, love him, and freely choose to serve him because he is their Lord. I want them to learn, grow, and succeed (through his grace) "on their own."

The essence of parenthood is to work yourself out of a job (or at least change job descriptions from parent to grandparent and/or elder of the community). It is not to play a never-ending game of "house," with 37-year old Billy playing the voracious, unemployable baby. (Egad, who's going to want to change his metaphorical diapers after you die?) Worse, what kind of husband and rather would he make?

It has truly been a privilege to watch Christine grow into a lovely Christian woman. I'm looking forward to seeing who and what God wants her to become. It all happened so fast. Where did my baby go? They grow up too quickly. Love them while you have the chance.

Mariette Ulrich is a wife and home-schooling mother. She lives in Scott, SK with her husband and (for the time being) seven daughters. She can be contacted at
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Author:Ulrich, Mariette
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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