This summer, my 14 year old will leave me.
She has found something that she loves more than the comfort of our home. More than the solace of her bedroom. More than predictability of mom’s cooking and early morning snuggles and family shenanigans and Saturday chores (ok, way more than Saturday chores.)
Music is taking her over mountains and oceans and continents.
And away from me.
My oldest will travel to Italy with her choir to sing in places like the Doge’s Palace and St. Peter’s Basilica and Cinqua Terra’s cliff-side tavernas. I know, right? Amazing.
I’m a bit in denial about it. I mean, I know we got her passport, and that she’s been cleaning houses and baby-sitting like crazy to earn the funds. And I know that the calendar is marked with big red letters. But I’m in denial that she is going to be THAT FAR, THAT YOUNG, for THAT LONG. I’m going to be in total denial about it until we are at the airport saying goodbye.
Then, I’m going to freak out. Right after I close the car door and start driving away. And it’s going to be ugly. And wet. And loud. I’m going to cry, “What if she needs me?” And then I’ll remind myself that, “She won’t,” and then that’s not going to feel comforting at all.
But isn’t this what this parenting thing is all about? That we raise them so they won’t need us anymore? So they have the self-confidence that they can do hard things? And we, their parents, don’t have to be there, coaching every step of the way?
My youngest daughter’s softball coach reminded me of this at a parents’ meeting the other day. She said, “Leave the coaching to us. At the end of the game, on the way home, your job is to tell them one thing. Only one thing. And that is, ‘I love to watch you play.’” So I think that means no instruction, no “you need to’s” and no “You should have’s” and no, “next time, try…” and no over-functioning in your kid’s life. Just, “I love to watch you play,” which is less about the performance and more about the relationship. If I were British, I would say, “Bloody Brilliant!” Why didn’t I think of that?
We don’t want to be over-functioning freaks. I’ve seen one looking back at me in the mirror sometimes, and I fire her. Often. Over functioning in our kids’ lives actually demeans them and makes them feel incompetent to solve their own problems, try new things, make their own decisions, own their own lives. It develops them into hard to please, unhappy, incompetent adults. Ew.
It seems to me that each stage of parenting requires me to loosen my grip a little more to make allowances for them, their experiences and their unique needs. The homeostasis of the relationship requires me to pull back and for them to step forward. I have to let them experience the joy, pain and consequences of becoming an adult. I have to let them feel the weight of their responsibilities and the freedoms of their maturity, all at the same time.
Letting go is not just good for them, it’s good for us, too. Just because we are letting go, doesn’t mean we are losing something. We actually gain something. We gain the value of our kids being separate individuals- unique and enjoyable and worthwhile.
So yeah. Parenting is just a long journey of holding on and then letting go, and letting go some more. And the very thing I want the most, but am most afraid of seizing, is the freedom that letting go initiates. When I let them be their own person, feel their own feelings, have their own weaknesses, I give them the freedom they crave too.
Sounds pretty good in theory, right? I’ll let you know how I’m doing after the airport drop off!