The garage "rock" band in which my eldest son spent much of his high-school life took over our basement about two years ago. Of course, this was entirely intentional on my husband's and my part -- we figured out when he was a sophomore that the band practices where the drum kit sits. So we bought the ear-bursting, sanity-blowing instrument in hopes that the kids would gather in our home as much as possible.
The plan worked marvelously, and we ended up spending many hours shouting our conversations above the blaring attempts by "Black Crappie" to make its mark in the music world. Little did I know that every single teenage boy that set foot in our home would take his turn at the drums. There was no escaping the sonic booms that permeated every square inch of our home. Even so, I found the music and noise alike delightful -- mostly because they were the defining sounds of my son.
Unbeknownst to Drew, there were many late nights when I crept quietly down the stairs to the kitchen which sits just above his basement bedroom. He often chose the stillness of the night to play the more melodious, personal tunes on his guitar. The sweetness of his music softly drifted through the AC vent, immersing my senses like soothing incense. It was often in these private moments of reflection and absorption that I prayed most fervently for guidance in my motherhood, and for the boy whose youth was fleeting before my very eyes.
Last weekend my husband, son and I entered a new era in our lives -- an era that we, like so many other parents before us, knew would come far too soon: We dropped off our first born at college.
It’s what all parents want for their children -- the time when they are set free as young adults to explore the world around them and chart their own course in life. Still, our family dynamics are changed forever, and what I find myself most grateful for are the many hours we spent with our son. The hours of molding and teaching; of training and Boy Scouts; of laughing and yelling (yes, sometimes yelling); of studying; of cleaning up; of rushed Sunday mornings late (again) for church; of lazy Saturdays and family vacations; of just being together.
I know in my heart that it’s the time we spent together as a family that has best prepared Drew to enter the world on his own. As I stare at his empty seat across the dining-room table, I'm overcome with gratitude that we fought the culture and demands of our busy world to bring our family together for those precious evening hours. It wasn't easy, and the dinners weren't always fun and games. But it was those hours spent together over the years that our children learned of our unfailing love, our deep faith in God, our parental expectations. In those hours, they came to experience a deep sense of security and belonging -- of knowing that although they may be far away some day, they will always be part of our home.
The importance of such moments must not be underestimated. Research gathered on The Heritage Foundation's Family Facts Web site reveals the many benefits our children reap when we parents give them our most valuable asset -- our time. A survey by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse shows, for instance, that from ages 12 to 17, the proportion of teens who have regular family dinners drops by 50 percent, while their risk of substance abuse increases sevenfold. Polling nearly 2,000 boys and girls in the United States, the center found that, "The more often teenagers have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs. In fact, compared with teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have dinner with their families only two nights per week or less are at double the risk of substance abuse."
And what about the influence of fathers on the lives of their children? The pop culture frequently portrays dads as disposable, doltish or dangerous. The reality, of course, is that dads pay a vital role in their children's development and well-being. One study summarized on FamilyFacts.org reveals that "father absence was associated with the likelihood that adolescent girls will be sexually active and become pregnant as teenagers.” Many other studies reveal the essential person "dad" is in the lives of his children.
And what about Mom? It has been said that the most powerful word in any language is "mother." Yet, our society increasingly belittles the role and seems to place higher value on the mom who hires others to care for her children than the mom who sacrifices to raise them herself. One study, published in the journal Family Relations and also summarized on FamilyFacts.org, found that the children who were the most successful in first grade (in terms of test scores and teachers’ ratings) were those whose mothers had spent “a great deal of time in positive interactions with them.” It also found that their academic success “correlated with their mothers’ involvement in talking with them, listening to them and answering their questions.”
My gut has always told me that my children needed my husband and me to be an active part of their daily lives. Thank the Lord we listened to our quiet instincts over the myriad other boisterous voices whose constant mantra tells parents that we are irrelevant, replaceable and even harmful. I've come to realize all too soon that "parenthood is not a dress rehearsal" -- and for us, the show is over. Yes, we will always be Drew's parents - but his impressionable childhood in our home is gone forever.
Silence surrounds me as I stand in my kitchen just before midnight. Gazing down at the air-conditioning vent vainly hoping to hear or feel some small evidence of life, the reality hits me: The basement is silent.
I remind myself that the original music of my son's life is just beginning. And I have joy and peace in knowing that my time with him will always nurture his melody.
Rebecca Hagelin is Vice President of Communications and Marketing at The Heritage Foundation.