By Melissa Ford
Parenthood doesn't stop when your son or daughter reaches majority age, but continues throughout your life even though your parenting role changes. And because your job as parent evolves as your child grows, those first 18 years are critical in building a strong foundation for a future relationship with your child.
Now you might be wondering, "Who's thinking about a future relationship when I'm in the middle of keeping kids safe, carpooling, juggling work and home or preparing the next meal?" I certainly wasn't focused on the future; I was just trying to get through the day. It took one of those "ah-ha" moments to discover that broadening my parenting vision beyond the next 12 hours would help me get more of what I wanted in the years to come.
It started out as a “Hey, how are you?” phone call; you know the kind.
I called my girlfriend under the guise of catching up, yet I really wanted to grouse about my life. And like all kind friends, she listened patiently as I reiterated my story about how challenging, at times, my son could be. He wouldn't listen, he talked back, he didn't do this, he didn't do that. I felt frustrated, disappointed, stuck and hopeless. I listed my criticisms and grievances and whined on and on about my life.
When I came up for air, she said, "Melissa, maybe this isn't about getting your son to do exactly what you want now, maybe this is about the future. Maybe the most important thing is that when he's 18 years-old, will you have a relationship with him?"
Don't you just love how an epiphany sneaks up on you . . slowly?
In the midst of struggling with a four-year-old, I was asked to consider a relationship projected 14 years into the future?! I knew she was onto something as I softly responded, "What do you mean?" My dear friend replied, "I know you want him to do what you want, when you want it, but if you approached him in a way that would grow and strengthen your relationship rather than weaken and diminish it - you'd be more effective now and you'd be building for the future!" As I hung up the phone, I was struck with a new awareness.
Parenting wasn't just about getting what I wanted NOW, but it was about caring for this precious connection as I pursued my wants.
With a quiet resolve, I made a commitment to my current and future relationship with my wonderfully tenacious, sweet son by prioritizing a non-judgmental, loving attitude. I didn't forgo setting expectations or instilling my values or voicing unpopular opinions, but I did it with an awareness of our mother-son life together beyond that moment.
This vision carried me throughout my parenting days and in challenging situations I would remind myself, "What was more important, getting what I wanted or building a relationship as I pursued my wants?"
Fourteen-plus-years later, I am grateful I parented with an eye toward the future.