We no longer have teenagers in our family.

My son, Alek, turned 20 last week, and my daughter, Claire, is 22.

I sometimes miss having the younger versions of Claire and Alek around the house, when I knew they were around more and when they needed me more.

But watching them grow into young adults, independent and able to take care of themselves, is great to witness.

Claire will leave Wayne State College in May with a college degree, and move onto the next phase in her life.

Alek is in his second year at the same college, having had to adjust on the fly to life without a ball and glove.

As a parent, you gain a greater understanding and appreciation of your own parents.

A couple weeks ago, we actually had everyone at home for a meal for the first time in a long time.

These times are few and far between.

With our kids away at college and because our work schedules never match up, my wife and I eat in shifts.

I'll grab something quick and easy when I get home, and a couple hours later she does the same, so when we are all able to get together it's special.

That must have been how my parents felt when they had the whole family together for holidays or special occasions.

It's great to have everyone home because it reminds us of the best of times, when our homes were filled with noise and laughter and activity.

Having Claire and Alek come home from college gives us a chance to get caught up on what goes on in their lives.

I'm sure Claire really comes home to see our dog, Millie, and Alek, to do his laundry yes, he actually washes his own clothes. But for Kelly and I, it's good to see them.

I can see a time, a time that will come quickly, when Claire and Alek will be out of college and working. Their lives will become busier, and if they end up living a distance from home, trips to see Mom and Dad will become less frequent.

That's life.

When I went away to college, I never went home unless there was a break from school. That had to be an odd and difficult adjustment for my parents, since I was the last to leave the nest.

But I'm sure they took pride in the fact I was growing up and becoming an adult.

The goal for parents is to raise children who can move out and live healthy, successful lives. It doesn't mean we don't miss them, but no parent wants their kids to struggle.

Growing up is tough, and letting go is tough, but that's the way it works.

Because we don't get together as often, we appreciate it that much more when we do.

We sat down for a meal last week to celebrate Alek's birthday and had a great time.

I don't know when that will happen again, but I do know that when it does, it'll be special.

Nothing beats family.

Patrick Murphy, of Humphrey, Neb., is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.