Fifteen years ago, I attended my mother’s retirement party. For thirty years, my mother worked in various staff roles at a large public university. She was a generous mentor to many junior colleagues, and she was a trusted confidante to academic administrators. At the party, people had the chance to say a few words about her, and there were so many well-wishers the emcee set a strict time limit on remarks. I recall the volume but not the content of these testimonials. Except for one. It came from a faculty member who had worked with my mother when he served as a dean. He said,
Barbara taught me a lot. Some of it was about work, but she also taught me about being a parent. She explained to me that our job as parents is to teach our children to be free of us.
When I picture this moment, the scene turns into an animated cartoon. Those final phrases, “our job as parents” and “teach our children to be free of us” form speech bubbles. The bubbles float up away from the speaker’s mouth, over the crowd, and come to linger above me. Then they come crashing down and bonk me on the head. Zoinks! Holy Medea, Batman!
At the time of the party, I was a parent of an eight year old and a five year old. I had some ideas about raising children that I suspected were in agreement with my parents and other ideas that were deliberately different. Did I think that my job as a parent was to teach my children to be free of me? No, not in a million years. I still don’t.
I have never carried around around a pithy expression of what “our job as parents” is. But I recently came across one in an unlikely place, Amor Towles’ novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. The Gentleman, Count Rostov, shares this thought (p. 309),
A parent’s responsibility could not be more simple: to bring a child safely into adulthood so that she could have a chance to experience a life of purpose and, God willing, contentment.