This is the summer between high school and college. There is an awareness of my child actually being a legal adult since turning 18 in May. She decides what she does and even though I find myself unable to shut my mouth at times, I know that trying to tell her what to do is ridiculous. It undermines what she is supposed to be doing developmentally – independence. And my effort to “help” just pisses her off.
I’m aware that my own insecurity is what is posing the biggest threat to our relationship this summer. There are ways I see her struggling with the exact things I have battled throughout my life – my difficulty with taking down time or spending time alone, my behaviors related to anxiety, and my tendency to pack too much into my days and weeks. When I see her repeating MY patterns I see myself trying to fix her. I don’t want her to have to struggle the way I did, but I know I can’t influence her anymore. We are long past that phase of parenting. I can’t change the mistakes I’ve made and she is no longer in a place of needing or wanting my help – unless she specifically asks for it! And what a negative message to send to her when I try to fix her – as if I don’t believe in her ability to take care of herself or be responsible. The truth is she is a wise, confident, talented and extremely resourceful young woman. She is not perfect, but none of us are.
Of course some of my reactivity to her constant running around is my separation anxiety. I fear the aloneness I will soon feel when I come home from leaving her in New York. I have done my best to fill my life with wonderful and positive people and activities, but the pain of this separation is inevitable.
Last night we had a weird fight. I hadn’t seen her for two weeks, aside from picking her up at the airport on Sunday. This week she is house sitting, then going river rafting with her dad. I wanted to get some times scheduled with her for packing and other things we need to do for her move, and I’ve been missing her more knowing the BIG separation is coming soon. Unfortunately our discussion turned into an ugly interaction and I couldn’t seem to get clarity or to resolve anything with her. The more we talked, the worse it felt, and the worse I felt about myself. Eventually I left the house she is staying at, in tears, not knowing what to do with myself in my pain.
I went home and sat in my living room watching Animal Planet drinking a glass of wine, terrified for the baby otters in Brazil being hunted by the Jaguar. Not a very good distraction. I figured it was time for a new blog post, and began writing again for the first time in weeks. I also posted on Facebook and a friend who is also a mother of teens sent me this poem by Kahlil Gibran:
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.” And he said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Yes, I can give her my love but not my thoughts. And I am an imperfect bow sending her out into the uncertain world. Truly this feels like the hardest thing I have ever had to do as a parent.
Before I went to sleep last night my daughter called me and we had one of those amazing talks where everything makes sense again. I told her how I feel anguished at times when I see her struggling in ways I have struggled, knowing it is too late for me to influence her. She made it very clear that she WANTS these challenges, it’s how she discovers her own strengths and who she is. She said the only time my help is welcome is if she specifically asks for it. I agreed. She also told me she sees the truth behind my insistence that she spend time at home to “get things done”. What is underneath it is my hurt when she wants to be out all the time, and my missing her, my resistance to letting go. She told me she’d rather I just told her that I miss her and want to spend time with her. Seemed so simple when she put it that way!
Today I feel balanced again. I went to the post office and bought shipping boxes for when I will send her clothes and other things she can’t bring all at once to New York. We had a lovely hour together in between her various activities and my work schedule. I kept my mouth shut where I might not have before. Another day in the process of this transition..