“Losing a Child, Gaining an Adult” by Joel Gray.
I cannot imagine a greater pain in life than losing a child. To have that empty hole in your life would seem to be a grief beyond comprehension. With respect to those who have suffered this loss, this summer I came to the realization that I was losing my child in a completely different sense.
We were all set to leave on our annual family vacation when my seventeen-year-old son informed us that he wanted to stay home and work. Now, mind you, he’d known about this trip for weeks, and he only works a few hours a week for a friend of the family. Nevertheless, it took me aback. What happened to the little boy who would get so excited to go to the beach that he couldn’t sleep the night before?
I responded with a typical Dad line: “You’re going, and I don’t want to argue about it.” He shrugged, mumbled a grunt, and left the room. I thought the discussion was finished.
Fast forward to the second night of vacation. We were all ready to go souvenir shopping and grab some food. He had been a little surly all day, so I pulled him aside and asked what was wrong. Again, a shrug and a grunt were his only response.
I’m not proud of what happened next: I accused him of being selfish. He responded with righteous indignation. “How am I being selfish for going on a vacation that I didn’t want to go on and not complaining once?”
Because we were in public, I checked my temper and decided to wait until we got back to the hotel for the confrontation. But a funny thing happened on the way to the showdown. I was reminded that my son’s best friend was leaving for the Army that week, and he had wordlessly given up his last days with this friend to join us on vacation.
He was right: he wasn’t being selfish. I was.
I was expecting my child to be a child. I was demanding gratitude. He had joined us on the trip without complaining, participated in all the activities, and enjoyed most of them. Intermingled with the typical teenage surliness had been episodes of cordiality, humor, and even affection.
What I hadn’t grasped yet was that, while I was losing my child, I was gaining an adult. He has a life outside of his parents, and I had not realized that this life was just as important to him as mine is to me. I’m not ashamed to admit that for a while I grieved the loss of the little boy who used to follow me around wherever I went. Gradually, grief gave way to appreciation for the man he’s becoming. Three things helped me get to that place.
First, I was not prepared for the wave of fear that accompanied the epiphany of his adulthood. Did I do enough? Has he learned enough? Will he fall away from his faith? These questions and more fanned the flames of my worst fears. It took, and is still taking, prayer to displace these concerns. Fear must give way to faith that Jesus will keep him.
Secondly, I had to develop a new sense of appreciation for who my son is now. It’s true that he isn’t little anymore, but that means there are new experiences we can enjoy together. He’s a good kid, and though our relationship is changing, he’ll never stop being my son. I’m thankful that he has become someone I like, as well as love.
Finally, I had to change my perspective. Since he came into this world, his mother and I have been trying to get him to the place where he can be independent. Although he still has some way to go, I must appreciate that he’s heading in the right direction. My parents had to go through the same thing, and possibly someday my son will feel this paradigm shift with his own children.
Yes, I am losing a child, but I am gaining a responsible adult who will continue to make me proud.
(UPCI Family Ministries – firstname.lastname@example.org)