Not because of the mistakes you make and learn from, though of course they help. Not because you constantly run the risk of psychologically damaging your children. I think that risk is HUGELY over-rated by parents. Kids are just not that frail. (Look at how many parents are terrorized by their toddlers and teens. Frail? Pfft. Those small (and not-so-small) bullies are causing trauma, not receiving it.)
No, parenting brings wisdom, and a cold dose of humility, because you can see yourself in your kids. You see echoes of your younger self in their behaviour, and thus, you get an adult perspective on your own behaviour.
This particularly applies to adult children. My eldest is 23 now. A young adult, but an adult. Given that she's been living mostly on her own since she left for university, and that since graduation she's had a job in a different city and paid her own way completely, she's earned those adult stripes.
But she is a young adult.
We're just wrapping up a conflict, she and I, and a significant one. At one point, I greatly feared we were heading for another estrangement. We had one of those for the three years between 17 and 20, and I'd assumed that with adolescence behind us, we'd left that kind of thing with it. This week, I seriously questioned that assumption.
But it seems we'll make it out of these woods. And what have I learned?
1. Keep my opinions to myself.
Not that I am terribly forthcoming with them. Once they hit their late teens, my kids can go months without hearing an opinion. They get lots of questions bytimes, exploratory questions, not aggressive ones. But I don't often pronounce on their lives. When they leave home, I do this even less.
At this point, though, I'm thinking that I won't tell her anything I'm thinking, at least when that "anything" is at all critical of certain areas of her life. I think I'll be reluctant to do it even if I'm asked (which, we can all note, I wasn't this time). We will call this A Lesson Learned. From here on in, she is welcome to learn from bitter experience.
Lesson 1b: It is probably best she learn from experience.
2. She is not as measured and mature as I thought she was.
I'd expected disagreement with my position, expressed with some degree of huffiness. I did not expect a full-on onslaught of furious outrage. I expected her to disagree with my opinion, even to tell me I had no business imposing it upon her; I did not expect her to deny my right to an opinion. (Obviously, expecting a negative response, I did not embark on this conversation lightly. I felt it necessary, a maternal duty shouldered with stoicism rather than enthusiasm.)
She is certainly not as meaured and mature as she thinks she is... which leads me to the Most Important Lesson of all:
3. At age 23, I was not as measured and mature as I thought I was.
Without a child of that age to point the way, I'd have only my memories to go on... and they are, of course, the memories of a 23-year-old. I'd have a 23-year-old's perspective on the situations, the people involved, their responses, my own behaviour.
Of course, I've gained perspective over the years, even without my children's input. I've learned some stuff about my younger self along the way, but I will tell you now, NOTHING shows you how blinkered and restricted a 23-year-old's thinking is like arguing with a 23-year-old, even a sensible, mature, intelligent 23-year-old such as mine.
Um, mom? On the off chance you ever stumble across this blog?