High school graduation parties in our community are a big deal. Garage interiors get a spiffy new coat of white paint. Band mementos, sports ribbons, and grade school photos go public for a few hours before landing back in the keepsake box down in the basement. Parked cars line the curbs.
It’s fun to observe how 18-year-olds process their young lives and answer that impossible question that people can’t help themselves from asking: “So, what’s happening next in your life?” I’ve noticed that teens who’ve held jobs in high school or taken on adventurous experiences, however local or distant, have a maturity of perspective that bodes well for their future. These are kids who seem to sense that life is more than just learning hard skills in a classroom; it’s also about learning self-sufficiency and problem solving, enthusiasm for challenge, equanimity in the face of change and uncertainty. I love spotting creativity, curiosity, optimism, and flexibility in such kids. There’s also the moral compass that’s hard to miss in those where faith has played a central role.
There’s another delightful takeaway from these grad parties. For me, it’s the conversations with parents who open up about the art of parenting. What’s clear from the best of those conversations is that parenting is anything but an exact science. Thank God for the significance of fidelity over expertise when it comes to this calling that no adult is ever fully prepared for. The best parents seem to grasp that their own character and attitude are more important than any technique. These are ones who have a solid self-understanding, who prize belonging to a church not just for the kids’ sake but for the sake of their own self-definition.
At one of these parties a couple of weeks ago, I caught a dad in an especially reflective moment as he talked about his nest emptying and the household thinning of kids’ activities. Besides asking him what he loved most about parenting, I asked him what’s been hardest. “Apologizing to my own kids on certain occasions was really tough. Nobody wants to say, ‘I was wrong.’ But it brought us even closer together. I figured that if my kids were ever to take responsibility for their own actions, they ought to see me doing it as well.”
Wow! That little exchange was worth more to me than all the brisket and cupcakes served out of the garage that day. And then some.