Other Views

By Peggy Jenkins Leong

Saturday, July 3, 1999

An encore for empty-nesters

MY nephew graduated from high school last month with more honors and accolades than I and my six brothers and sisters combined. National merit, advanced placement, select band, varsity sports, and on and on.

Joe is far more than the sum total of his many achievements. He is witty, down to earth (almost subterranean at times), open minded and tolerant. I won't try to guess what his future holds, but from his school performance I bet he will succeed in whatever he chooses, and from his character I believe he will choose wisely.

I am proud of Joe, but really it is his parents who deserve the highest praise. Over the years I watched his mom, my sister, put aside her own desires to teach and nurture her kids.

It was a pretty thankless job, and there were times when she'd think that all the time and energy she was putting in was not making a difference. But it did, and the way Joe and his sister use their gifts should be lasting thanks.

Joe's parents are not alone. Most parents of teen-agers I know have really gone all out for their kids from the very start. I've seen it joked that these baby boomers tried to reinvent parenting and raise it to an art form, but in fact their devotion and sacrifice has been simple and selfless.

And their kids show the results of their careful tending. They are smart, confident, disciplined and healthy. They seem to navigate with ease through a complex world. At my nephew's graduation ceremony, the audience was full of parents beaming with pride and accomplishment.

I guess it's too early to ask these super-parents what they plan to do for an encore. The kids need to be packed off to college, there are books to be read, vacations to be taken, long baths to luxuriate in. But when you empty-nesters feel ready for something new, I have a modest proposal. There are a whole bunch of kids who could use some of your nurturing.

Some have no parents, or abusive parents, or parents enslaved by drugs or alcohol. Some have parents who are loving and caring, but who lack the time, education or resources to give their children the gifts you gave your own. You could help. Your parenting skills are a tremendous resource, and there are a number of opportunities for you to share them.

The kids who need you now are like your own kids in a lot of ways: sweet, funny, confused and full of energy.

Like your kids they have talent and gifts and promise, and they need someone like you to help them to realize their potential. Sure they have rough spots. Sometimes understanding the hardships they face will nearly break your heart. But you can open doors for them by helping them recognize and develop their potential, and by letting them know that people value them and care about their happiness and success.

THE time you spend being a mentor in the community will help your kids too. Your devotion to them may have inadvertently given them the impression that they are the center of the universe.

By your example now you can show your kids that life's real joy and meaning comes not solely from material things or even from success, but from giving to others. This last part of the lesson may be the most enduring part of your legacy.

If you have time to help, call the Volunteer Action line at 536-5006. If you are a recent graduate, give this piece to your mom and dad. When you do, it might be a good opportunity to let them know how much their sacrifice has meant to you, and how proud you would be if they would share their gifts with others.

Peggy Jenkins Leong is a Honolulu lawyer and mother.

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