By Elizabeth Spencer, Crosswalk.com
For Christmas one year, my oldest daughter gave me a tutu.
It was a fetching pink-and-green tulle number she’d made herself, with help from my seamstress mom.
My then-teenager gave it to me not because I’m a dancer or because I had anywhere in particular to wear it, but because she was familiar with one of the less-than-fulfilling pieces of my life story and wanted to do something about it.
She knew that when I was about eight years old and was, briefly, a dancer, I’d been in a production of the ballet “Hansel and Gretel.” My class had been cast as gingerbread men, so while all the other dancers flitted around in pink satin, I wore a brown polyester jumpsuit, complete with painted brown ballet shoes.
I’d told this story, laughingly, to my children enough times that finally, that Christmas, my daughter decided to write a new chapter.
The best thing about her gift was not the tutu itself—darling though it was (and is… tucked in its dedicated spot in my antique dresser)—but what it showed me about how my big kid knew me, knew what had bothered me…and had allowed it to bother her, then taken action on my behalf.
My grown kids and I are still navigating how to do life with each other in a new season, but this far along, I’m grateful to have already unwrapped seven gifts of ongoing relationship with them.
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1. Growing in Faith Together
A few weeks ago, my teenager told me about a conviction she’d received from the Holy Spirit. She explained that she realized she would often confess to God or to a friend that she struggles with some sin but then would then stop there—with the confession, but without moving on to repentance.
She said, “I realized I don’t take the next step and turn and go a different direction.” I listened to what she shared and had a little Holy Spirit conviction moment of my own, because of course I do the same thing: confess but don’t repent.
This was hardly the first time one of my older kids had shared about her own spiritual growth in a way that prompted me to grow, too.
Our children always feed our faith—“…a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6)— but when they are older and we are in relationship with them, we take our seat at the grownups’ table together and feast on solid food. “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13, 14).
2. Being Loved on Purpose
I read a post a few months back that said there’s no love like the kind of love your children have for you when they’re little. And I agree: our little kids love us without restraint or reservation, out of innocent, unguarded hearts. That’s part of what makes their love for us so worth celebrating and cherishing. We don’t have to do anything to earn it. It’s pure grace.
But there also is no love like the love our kids have for us when they’re older, because this kind of love is a choice. It’s on-purpose love. It’s love by decision, rather than by (delicious, delightful) default. It‘s love of intention.
When our older kids choose to love us and choose to show it, they give us an infinitely valuable and powerful gift. When they claim us in front of the crowd or reach out to us “just because” or invite us into the intimate spaces of their lives or call us their friends… when they love us like this, it’s a gorgeous kind of grace all its own.
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3. Friendships with People You’ve Known Their Whole Lives
I know and respect some parents who don’t believe we should ever be friends with our children, at any age. My personal conviction has been that during my children’s formative years, I was only their parent, not their friend.
But as they’ve grown into young women, I believe I’ve shifted to being both their parent—that…first, foremost, and always—and also their friend. For what is a friend? Someone you enjoy spending time with? Someone you care about? Someone whose life you invest in and who invests in yours? Someone you trust? Someone whose burdens you share and who shares yours?
All of these describe my relationship with my older kids, and so I consider them friends, as they do me. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice” (Proverbs 27:6, 9).
These are friends I have known their entire lives and who have known me their entire lives. We’ve laughed together, cried together, fought together, reconciled together. We are intimately acquainted with each others’ strengths, weaknesses, longings, heartaches, preferences, and temperaments. We’ve seen each other at our worst but always believe in our best. All this experience and intimacy comes together as a gift that is a rare and beautiful treasure indeed.
4. Your Have-To’s Become Your Get-To’s
The other morning, I got to make breakfast for my big kid. Other parents of teens or college students or young adults or middle-aged adults will understand the “got to” of this. So much of what feels like have-to when our kids are small gives way to get-to or hope-to when they’re big.
Things like making breakfast, packing lunches, tucking kids into bed, playing games, watching kids’ choice movies, cooking dinner (again), doing laundry, making beds, nursing sick kids, answering questions, solving problems: I’m sure I should have always considered these tasks a privilege back then when they were happening with daily regularity, but I didn’t. These were often my have-to’s.
Now, though, they are my get-to’s--partly because they’re necessarily irregular and partly because (I hope) with age comes not only wisdom but also appreciation. I don’t often get to do these thing for my older kids anymore, so when I do, even though technically I’m the one doing the giving--time, energy, attention, care--I always feel like really, I’m the one getting something.
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5. Being Cared for by People You’ve Cared For
My husband and I got in trouble with our young adult the other day. The two of us had been traveling and had been keeping in touch with her via text along the way. She asked us to let her know when we were finally home, but once we got there, we got busy unpacking and opening mail.
We’d been home for a good chunk of time when we got a text from her: “Are you guys okay???” We quickly offered our mea culpas and promised to do better the next time. And even though our elementary educator reprimanded us in what we refer to as her “teacher voice,” there was something to be said for being on the receiving end of parent-child worry for a change.
This is also the daughter who, when we were at a family gathering and I got busy in the kitchen, found me and said, “Mom, I made you a plate of food. I got you some of that dip you like because it’s almost gone.” Her loving care fed more than my stomach that day.
6. A Back-Stage Pass and a Front-Row Seat
When I watch my grown-up dancer dance or my grown-up teacher teach, I see not only them as they are now—skilled and capable and embracing their dreams come true—but also them as they were when they first started dreaming those dreams. I see my six-year-old tapping her way out onto the stage in her first recital. I see my elementary student playing teacher all summer long.
Proverbs 13:19 says, “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul." When our adult kids find fulfillment for a longing to which they’ve added work and learning and effort and determination, it’s sweet to their souls. And as their first teachers, directors, backstage crews, and audience members, it’s sweet to ours, too.
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7. Seeing the Rough Places Made Smooth
I wasn’t around much during the years my kid brother was bashing in his bedroom door with a hammer during a fit of teen angst and anger and then covering the hole up with a poster. I was off to college and only heard stories like this afterward from my younger sister.
Besides the door-bashing incident, there was the hide-the-car-and-sneak-off-to-his girlfriend’s incident. And the buy-a-motorcycle-with-his-graduation-money (which my parents expressly told him not to do) incident. My brother was also the naturally smart student who slid his way through classes he didn’t care about, which were many.
My parents had to love him through all this. They had to hold onto hope and parent for a day they had no real way of knowing for sure would ever come. Without realizing it, they were clinging to the promise of Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16).
Eventually, the slacker student became an engineering major who ended up working for NASCAAR and then as a dedicated teacher at a high school tech center. But so much more than that, he became an adult who recognized what his parents had done for him and, on the other side of his tumultuous teen years, wrote them a letter that said, in part, “Thanks for never giving up on me.” I think it was probably the best gift they’d ever been given.
A couple months ago, my young adult came home for the weekend. I’m not used to her being around on a daily basis anymore, so every once in a while, I’d forget she was there. I’d pass by a room, catch a glimpse of her in it, and be hit by a fresh wave of joy and gratitude. It was like finding a gift under the tree on Christmas morning that you forgot you’d asked for—but then, when you opened it, remembered it was what you wanted more than anything.
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