The True, Lovely, and Transcendent Art of Simple

Several years ago, my husband’s job required us to live abroad. Acquainting myself with differing culture, customs, and perspective was expected, but I underestimated how much I would enjoy it.

As fate would have it, I “just happened” to have a cousin who had lived in Germany for over 30 years. Ellie became a wonderful teacher, describing things both ordinary and unusual before I even knew to ask. For instance, shortly after we arrived, on her first visit to our new apartment, she treated us to traditional housewarming gifts: bread and salt. Ellie explained how bread offered the wish that we never go hungry and salt represented adding flavor or a bit of luxury to life.

Another such particular observance was how Germans—or at least the friends in Ellie’s sphere—made a really big deal of “round” birthdays (the ones that end in “0.”) We attended a 60th birthday party more special than any celebration I had ever experienced in the States, though not because it was more lavish or costly. Rather, carefully planned months in advance, the evening included a fabulous meal and performances or tributes by most of the attendees. Each poem or play or presentation reflected the relationship the guest had with the person of honor.

Though we couldn’t understand the language, the spirit of the celebration was clear: milestones are worthy of celebration and remembrance. That, and laughter needs no translation.

Much of what I learned while living and traveling in Europe followed me home; at the top of the list, purposefully celebrating anything I find meaningful. Less a new revelation and more a reinforcement, my experience made me a better noticer of reasons to celebrate, no matter how big or how small.

Given the year we’ve had so far, I’m working it like it’s my job to find any excuse to toss confetti. Joy will never be far away for the wide-eyed seeker. (Although, I must admit, 2020 was set up to be a very special year for me before Coronavirus crashed my party.)

Which brings me to the Final Year of The Art of Simple. Wow…I can only imagine how Tsh must be feeling, given the little tug at my heartstrings I just felt writing that out.

Forever ago, Tsh invited me to write a single post about parenting teens because she knew I was in the throes of living it. Apparently, I had plenty to say because the post ended up published as two separate essays. One thing led to another, and I joined her amazing team of contributors for several years, initially writing about parenting, but eventually on a variety of topics before moving on.

When former contributors were invited to write a post for AoS’s final year, my sentimentality jumped at the chance. The ending of one thing allows space for the beginning of another, and both are worthy of celebration. Years of good work, a new season of possibilities—win-win, if you ask me.

Time is a trickster, though, isn’t she? Until I searched for my inaugural post here, I had no idea of the timing: almost ten years to the day of what will be my final post. Ten years…a decade…one of those beautiful round numbers lavishly celebrated in Germany.

The world has changed immensely since 2010. My children are long past their teenage years, now 23, 26, and 28. And, I’m thankful to still agree with my original advice. If you and I were to meet for coffee or cocktails, and you were seeking my general counsel about parenting teens, I’d probably at least touch on many points from that post.

What would I add about parenting young adults?

1. Mother’s intuition can usually be trusted.

Red flags waver for a reason. Invite a discussion to share your concerns. As a person of faith, I pray (more like beg) for wisdom before entering a conversation like this, but I’ve learned when I ignore my suspicions, it’s a mistake.

2. Pivot and flex to remain connected.

If your children don’t live nearby (or even if they do), make sure you are doing what’s necessary to stay in touch. Resist the idea that you’re interrupting them to call or text; they need to hear from you even if they aren’t always enthusiastic or responsive. Create a family text thread and update regularly (or Marco Polo, Voxer, etc.). Don’t wait for them to make the first move. This is one area they need you to take the lead.

3. Set and/or respect boundaries.

Though I recommend finding creative ways to stay connected, it’s equally important to give your adult kiddos space. You don’t want to foster a co-dependent relationship where they involve you with every decision they’re making, when they always defer to your judgment. If you’re frequently checking your location app to see where they are, you aren’t doing anyone any favors. Stop it. And when they get married, be careful about doing things better left to a spouse. Don’t enter into their arguments or otherwise undermine your child-in-law.

4. Prepare for empty nest.

Empty nest can leave a void in heart and home. Anticipating this in advance will serve everyone well. Your children want to see you thriving when they move out. If you’ve had a sabbatical, return to work. Volunteer (Covid won’t last forever, right?) Serve your community. Explore a new hobby. When you don’t heap guilt on your kids for not seeing them as often as you like, they’re more likely to want to come home.

Noticing the timing of my final post as a “round anniversary” instantly felt like I had come full circle, and I knew my last post should somehow be connected to my first. And yet, while this led us back to the topic of parenting, I hope you see it’s about so much more: acknowledging something personally meaningful, equally welcoming the natural rhythms of life (like endings and beginnings), and seizing a moment to celebrate.

To me, this is the true, lovely, transcendent art of simple.

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