Not quite a week ago, Marianne and I checked off the last item on the list of Family To-Dos – we got everyone married off. Now the hard part – processing how we feel about it.
This project started in January of 1992 when the first of our three children was born. Isn’t this checklist a universal one? Get them walking and talking, then into school, then through puberty (a rough one), then through high school, then into/through college, into real-life employment and, finally, into their own marriages.
Everyone told me that if I blinked I would miss much of it – and that was true. What seemed for so long like a daily grind (or maybe a slo-mo series of daily grinds) is suddenly over. We have now completed the course in parenting (though we will be waiting awhile for a final grade).
It was about three years ago when our eldest, who surprised us with the desire to enter life in a Catholic religious order, took his final vows as a Dominican Friar. This is the equivalent of marriage, a lifelong commitment to the Order of Preachers. That Order, having done this sort of thing since 1216 A.D., is pretty experienced so we think he is on his way. After a year as an associate pastor at a parish church in Wisconsin he is being reassigned to a Dominican-run high school in the Chicago area.
It has been the recent whirlwind that saw us through two weddings in a three week span that allows us to check off the “you’re on your own” box for the other two. I have some random thoughts on these. First, it is an incredible blessing when each of your two marrying children choose for a partner someone who we parents are delighted to welcome into our family. It is almost as nice when those families are delighted to welcome our offspring too. Each of those kids of ours dated some individuals we were less enthusiastic about (listen to me be so polite!) but those rocky times have passed and we could not be happier with the outcomes.
Each of the newest married couples in our family has a unique style and those styles were similar yet different when it came to the weddings that came hard and fast in near succession. There was a mixture of tradition and un-tradition, in different items and proportions between them. But both were lovely in watching young people in love make vows to one another. Those are hard vows to keep in this day and age (as they were in 1990 when Marianne and I made them) but from all outward signs, these couples are well-matched in their temperaments and personalities, which makes for a really good start.
It has been gratifying to watch our family growing with the addition of no-longer-future in-laws who have, in turn, welcomed us as new additions into their own extended clans. Several people have told us how much they love our children and how they appreciate that we raised kind, thoughtful and independent young people. Isn’t that how it is supposed to be? It has also been enjoyable to get to know Fr. James Pierce’s brother friars, knowing that we are in an extended family relationship with them as well. This is less familiar territory for us, but we seem to be picking it up as we go along.
I have concluded that every parent comes from a flawed family, creates a flawed family and raises children who will enter into their own flawed families. The object is to minimize the flaws by improving on the messes we brought into our lives and by not creating too many new ones. But every couple is made of two imperfect humans, so the varieties of dysfunction are almost infinite. But as I gaze at these young adults that are the product of our upbringing, I feel pretty good about how well they came through the process. They have become the kinds of people I (and others) enjoy being around and I am extremely proud of them.
It is now time for our parenting habits to transition into the realm of suggestion and request rather than the “tell and demand” phase of a few years ago (like the years of high school and early college). I think I will like being a resource (as opposed to the one responsible for everything in their lives). I also look forward to settling into a life of being some part of their new families the way they have previously been part of ours. The seeds were planted and watered, the hard work is done and now it is time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I look forward to this phase.
A more sobering thought occurs to me – what is farther down the checklist for Marianne and me now that we have spun our younger family members into family units of their own. There are a few years of productive work ahead, and the task of getting our lives in order for retired life. There is also time for us to enjoy one another’s company and maybe (if all goes as hoped) the ability to impart a little love and wisdom as grandparents. These things are so much more pleasant to think about than the inevitable declines in health that eventually overtake us all.
So now that the weddings are over and the new couples’ rest-of-their-lives are underway, it is time for Mom and Dad to put their feet up and savor the successes that we had some part in creating. It is also time for those new couples to get on with making and nurturing a good marriage. They – and we – deserve it
COAL Update – I am not now, nor have I ever been royalty. But for a couple of years in the early 1990’s, Marianne and I lived the Imperial lifestyle.