It never gets old.
But one day, it could be gone. It doesn’t have to be but it could.
I pulled into my driveway. My five-year-old came out to greet me. He was barely clothed and eating a piece of bread. Minutes before, I heard a father who is about to give away his daughter in marriage say something about how quickly kids grow up. Enjoy them while you can. Soon, they’ll be gone.
There were a number of things I could have said to my half-naked, bread-eating son when he came out to meet me in the driveway.
Don’t you know that I could have ran over you?
Where are your clothes?
Why are you eating bread right before lunch?
None of that came out. Instead, I just picked him up. I told him how happy it makes me when he comes out to see me when I get home. He patted my back and told me about his day while I held him.
It’s true. One day my son will move on. He may go to school somewhere far away or maybe he’ll just find a good job, get married and settle down in a place of his own. Either way, his days in my house are numbered. That dad was right. Enjoy them while you can.
But there’s more to it than just enjoying my sons while I can.
There is preparation.
Preparation for how our relationship will be when we are both older.
I won’t always be there for my son. But, if God wills, I will at least be around. I’ll be a phone call or a short drive away. Here’s the thing about phone calls and short visits. They don’t just happen. They are fostered. The pleasant and meaningful phone conversation between a 60-year-old father and his 25-year-old son doesn’t begin when the phone rings. It begins two decades earlier. In the driveway. While your minimally clothed son eats bread.
I’m no expert on parenting. I don’t know a lot about raising teenagers. I do know a little. I know the pain of a parent who has lost her son and doesn’t know how to get him back. I know the pain of a father who just wishes that his teenage daughter would open up to him instead of the scores of teenage boys who care nothing for her. I’m pretty sure that I know where it all starts to go south.
If you want your sensitive 13-year-old daughter to tell you all about the boys who are chasing her around at school, you better be willing to sit and listen to her when she’s a rambling 3-year-old and just wants to tell you all about her dreams of being a princess.
If you want your 18-year-old son to share his struggles and temptations with you, you start several years before by listening to those seemingly endless stories about Batman and answering non-sensical questions about how the Storm Troopers from Star Wars went to the bathroom.
Listening isn’t just something you do. Just like talking, at least the kind of soul-sharing that parents want from their kids, isn’t something that you do with just anyone. Both are a privilege. They are earned. Both are a habit. And habits are hard to break. That can be a good or a bad thing.
If you are developing the habit of constantly telling your kids, “Not now,” or “Maybe later,” there’s a good chance that you’ll get the same response from them in a decade or two.
But if you’re listening, you’re showing them that you care. And once they know that you care enough to put your phone down and listen, the lines of communication are likely to stay open.
So parents, stop just enjoying your kids while you can. Start preparing them to talk to you. Start listening to them. With a little hard work and a lot of grace, you just might be able to keep enjoying them when they’re all grown up.
Even when your son has moved out and is leading a family of his own, he’ll still want you to stop by for a visit.
He may even be waiting for you in the driveway.
Let’s just hope he’s wearing some clothes.