For some reason when my kids were little, I used think that I only had them until they turned 18. Like my job would suddenly end.  When they were babies and I imagined the end, I imagined them graduating from high school and then I was done parenting.

Boy was I wrong. My two oldest daughters are 19 and 18 years old. One’s a freshman in college and one is about to graduate from high school. It’s true, they no longer need me to wash their clothes, fix them lunch, or drive them around. But they need me.

They might not need me as a caretaker, chauffer, teacher, and coach. But they DO need me as a supporter, encourager, and trusted friend. As my kids get older, I’m learning to be a different kind of parent.

Here’s what I’m learning:

1. They need me to listen, but not necessarily tell them what to do. This is a hard one.  Sometimes the answer is so obvious to me. But what they really want is to use me as a sounding board as they figure things out for themselves. Sometimes the best thing I can do is ask questions to keep them talking and thinking.

2. They need me to be encouraging. Leaving home and heading off to college is a fun, scary, exciting, insecure time. Branching out and trying new things feels risky. They will make mistakes. They will struggle. I need to be their greatest cheerleader.

3. They need me to be supportive. My girls are making most of their own decisions. Sometimes they are not the decisions that I would make. But I have to remind myself that they learn from the good and bad of every decision they make. They need to know that I’m on their side. I’m FOR them.

4. They need me to pray for them. This is the time in their life where they are choosing new friends, their jobs, their classes, their church, and where they will live. These are important decisions. I pray every day that God sends the right people into their lives. That He opens doors wide for them. And that he closes them tight when necessary.

I am now realizing that my role as a parent never ends–it only changes. My heart will be forever connected to theirs. I wouldn’t want it any other way.