Stepping Up

It was my firstborn who always stepped up and stepped in – speaking to adults as though he were one of us, swooping in when his little brother was hurt or bullied, offering me a shoulder, an arm, his humor and his fine mind to distract, to discuss, to remind me of my worth – certainly in the eyes of my children.

It was he who bit off the most challenging tasks, taking the initiative – verbal, vocal, curious, confident. To some degree, the epitome of a born leader and grabbing for every bit of “adulthood” he could and that I would allow. Some of it, at a very young age.

My younger son? A different story.

All the more reason I am so moved – now – by his stepping up.

Kids Growing Up… and Showing Up, for Parents

The circumstances are unimportant, but the details I must deal with are overwhelming without some measure of assistance. What touches me is the fact that my son is stepping up without being asked, his proactive approach despite a rigorous schedule, and the consistency of his checking in and checking up – on me.

The steadiness in his voice – he is so clearly no longer a child – pulls at my heart in a way that only a parent can understand, as both bittersweet and reassuring.

If I speak occasionally of “showing up” – showing up in our own lives, showing up for those who rely on us – surely “stepping up” is the critical next stage. We all weigh trade-offs when time or other resources run short; we may disproportionately choose for ourselves, we may disproportionately choose for others, or we may arrive at a mindful give-and-take that we know will vary with context. Isn’t that what most of us wish for, as we engage with other adults in our life?

Nudging Them Out of the Nest

Parenting is always a tricky balancing act. We bring babies into the world and protect them ferociously. We watch them stumble and pick them up. We reach milestones with a mix of pride and sentimentality.

We allow them to make mistakes when we know it’s no longer appropriate to prevent them. If anything, our “helpful” interference may hurt. We must, to a large degree, allow our college kids and young adults to stand on their own, as we work to teach and reinforce the necessary skills.

So we coax, cajole, and push – wondering if it’s too much or too little. We loosen the apron strings when we can, assessing the timing and consequences of first forays into independence. Some children would cling to us longer than we wish; others, like my firstborn, spread their wings and fly too soon.

What do we hope for?

Responsibility, accountability, meeting commitments, being true to one’s values, looking out for family and friends, learning to handle money, becoming self-supporting – and yes, happiness. These are all items on a much longer parental checklist, items we know our teenagers and young adults must master as they leave the nest and in the years to follow.

Parents Stepping Back, Kids Stepping Up

In stepping up as parents – at times saying no when we wish we could say yes – we act on what is needed, not necessarily what is wanted; what is better in the long run, though the short run may mean tough going; we allow them to strike out, and without certainty that doing so is the best course for them, or us.

We step back, so they will step up.

As I think of my child with his head in the clouds, the non-talker, the artist, the one who was always late, the one who was always losing keys – this role reversal seems even more startling. I’m more inclined to expect it from my elder who is, at the moment, appropriately focused on showing up for the next stage in his life. His attention is precisely where it needs to be, and my younger son is assuming an increasingly adult stance, and stepping up – to my delight – for me.