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OUR TURN: Preparing them to live without us

The Anderson family on their camping trip to the North Shore in 2016.

We've been going there every summer, but this year was different.

For the past 15 years or so, our family has camped for a week in July along the North Shore of Lake Superior. It's become a tradition for us.

Although I've always loved the North Shore, it started to become a family tradition after my wife and I were engaged there and then took our honeymoon there about 20 years ago. Soon we brought our son, and later our daughter, on our camping trips. Somehow, sharing someplace you love with your children brings a whole new type of joy to the experience. It's kind of like rediscovering everything old through their new eyes. I wouldn't trade the experiences we've had there — fishing, hiking, exploring, taking photos, finding agates, throwing rocks, watching waves and sitting by the fire — for anything.

So, it was kind of a shock this year when my son, who is now almost 19, didn't join us. Knowing he wasn't going along almost made me not want to go. And, although it turned out to be a pretty fun week anyway, it just wasn't the same.

I'm finding that I'm having to make a lot of adjustments after so much of my life revolved around my son for so many years. Now he has his own interests, friends and job, and so we don't spend as much time together as I enjoyed in the past.

My daughter, who is 15, is also growing up and wanting to do more things on her own. Although we still have a few years to go before she makes the transition to independence, I can feel her starting to move away from us and wanting her freedom.

I never dreamed it would be so hard to let go, especially when I think about all the things we used to do together. With so much of their childhood in the past, it makes me wish I would have appreciated those times more. It makes me wish I would have been less mindful of my own selfish wants and more mindful of just being with them and enjoying their company.

But I'm learning that although natural, my feelings are also selfish and very much based on wanting the kids to make me happy — just like they always have. But making me happy is not their job, and I shouldn't expect that of them.

Although having children can certainly bring great joy and happiness, what really matters is not what they do for us, but what we do for them. Ultimately, it is our job as parents to help them to grow up and become independent of us. Our job is to love, correct, nurture and equip them as we prepare them to live without us.

Along the way, children also change us in many positive ways. While providing companionship for a season, they also teach us about unselfishness and what is really important in life.

Children really are loaned to us by God. We enjoy their company for a while, but the time eventually comes to give them back to his care. It's difficult to do, but nevertheless necessary and proper. They have their own lives to live.

As parents, we hope that our grown children will choose to make us a part of their lives. But we have to realize that it will be mostly up to them to determine what our relationship will be and how much time we will spend together. And we have to make the difficult transition from telling them what to do, to being more of an advisor and friend and letting them make their own decisions.

It's so easy to dwell on the past — on how things used to be, on regrets, mistakes and things not accomplished — but it's a lot more productive to focus on the present and the future, to focus on being the best parents we can be now, regardless of what age our children are.

I suppose in a few years it may be just my wife and I, alone on the North Shore again, reminiscing about all the good times we spent there with our kids. I hope we'll be able to remember the past without living in it. After all, we still have our lives to live, as do they.

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