May 2 2016

The Rewards of Parenting

Who knew having kids and raising them to adulthood would feel so rewarding? It seemed like it was hard during each stage we went through, but once it was over then we moved on to a new and different stage.

Before you know it the kids are growing up too fast and instead of celebrating all those “firsts”, you find yourself celebrating the “lasts”. You know, last day of kindergarten, last elementary school awards program, high school graduation, last time you will have to help one of your kids move into a dorm room, that sort of thing.

In five days, we will celebrate another last. Our youngest is graduating from college and moving home. Last time we will have to help pack and move a kid out of a dorm room, last graduation open house, last week of empty nesting for a while. Yes, I will miss the empty nesting. You feel a sense of pride as they reach monumental birthdays. You dread when you no longer have babies, toddlers, preschoolers, but instead you have teens, oh boy! I remember feeling like we had really done something worth while when both kids were officially adults, able to vote, drive cars, get tattoos! Yikes, not all of the rights of passage that come with being an adult seemed like good things. Then the oldest graduated from college and I was so proud. I realized he had done something nobody in either mine or his dad’s family had done since maybe his grandfather, and that was graduate with a four year degree in just four years. We had our share of college graduates in our family, but none had managed to get through in just four short years. Way to go! Then he got his first big-boy job as he called it and he wasn’t moving home. Not even to the city we lived in. But that was alright, he was only an hour up the road and he was doing well. Then when the baby turned twenty, I wanted to celebrate the fact that we had survived the teen years relatively intact. Once the baby turned twenty one, I suddenly had two grown children who not only could legally drink, but chose to do so. Wow! So not sure I am ready for this! The baby turned twenty two, was in her last year of college and it looked like she too would get the four year degree in the four year time frame. Excellent!

So I am bursting with pride yet again. Soon we will have not only two grown adult children, but two college graduates! Who knew when my husband and I struggled through getting our degrees while dating, getting married, having kids and working that we would set such good examples for our kids. They grew up knowing that they were expected to go to college, that we didn’t expect to be able to pay for it so they would need to get top notch grades so they could get scholarships. We were right, we are part of that middle class poor who earn too much for our kids to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to really be able to help them much. We did the College Choice 529 plan thing, but didn’t get started saving until the oldest was starting high school. We faithfully put away $170 a month for just over 10 years to be able to help each kids with ten thousand dollars toward their senior year of college. Do I wish it could have been more? Of course I do. I told the kids that we couldn’t help them until their senior year because first of all we needed more time to save up the money to be able to help them and second because we wanted to make sure they were serious about college and getting a degree. We all know kids who go away to college on their parents’ dime and party all the time until they flunk out. We didn’t want that to happen. They needed to keep their grades up and show up for classes. Their student loans are in their names, because they give out loans for kids to get an education, but not for parents to retire on. It scares me that even going to reasonable priced in-state schools, they are still graduating with over fifty thousand dollars of student loan debt hanging over their heads. That is more than we paid for our first house and almost as much as we sold it for fourteen years later. My husband never had student loans, and I had only five thousand dollars or so amassed during a couple of my last semesters in college. Of course we both took well over ten years to earn our four year degrees going the part-time, slow way and paying for it as we went. Those were the lean years of our marriage. Never much extra time or money, but maybe that wasn’t all bad. We raised our kids to respect money and to be thrifty. They grew up wearing second hand clothing of their choosing from the local Goodwill and thrift stores. They were fine with it and I didn’t stress out if they ruined a pair of jeans or a shirt now and then. They didn’t cost that much and we knew where we could find replacements fairly cheap. Perhaps because they had held jobs and grown up thrifty, they knew the value of the education and student loans they were getting. They didn’t squander them. Yet another reason to be proud of both of them.

One of the things that really pleased and surprised me as a parent was how smart our kids are and how good looking. Still not quite sure how that happened! I mean, you hope, pray and dream it will be that way, but you just figure you could never get that lucky. Well, we won the parenting lottery jackpot. We have two great kids who never caused us many sleepless nights, stayed out of trouble, got good grades, were pleasant to be around, are well liked by their peers and adults in general and who actually seem to like being around us. Well, most of the time anyway. Who could ask for more? I thank God and the fact that both my husband and I were raised by good parents who cared about us. Here’s to hoping you had as good a luck and experience raising your kids as we did raising ours. (1,094 words)