Ava went to a 3 day leadership retreat with her school this week. It was for the student government to plan events for the upcoming school year. She brought the paper home the first week of classes, her face alight with enthusiasm, and I felt, for a single moment, as though I was looking into the future with her away more than she’s at home.
It was both wonderful and sad, all at the same time (doesn’t that describe a lot of parenting experiences?). Our children grow up and away from us. Over time, we get lulled into a certain type of normalcy, with them coming and going, laughing, making messes, driving us up the wall. Then you begin to realize that quite soon, they will fly from our nests and begin their own adventures.
I get weary when I hear parents complaining about how much they miss the good old days when their kids were babies. This is not a post about that, for I don’t pine for that bygone era. Our kids are meant to grow older and more interesting and become who they really are. This process is fascinating and stimulating and I have no interest in holding it back.
But it does go by fast. If we do the work of parenting correctly, we are to take a dependent baby and turn that baby into an independent adult. This is the job posting every one of us signed up for when we chose to have children. Some days I find it easy to enjoy the fruit of my labours as a mom when I watch my son and daughter navigating the world on their own. Occasionally I feel as if I’m preparing them well for the rigours of our modern society.
Then there are the other days. The ones where I realize that in four short years Ava will be ready to start university. In two years she will be driving (our Alberta friends can see their teens driving now at fourteen but no such luck for Ava in BC). In grade nine there will likely be invitations to parties and events where we will need to practice, as parents, setting reasonable boundaries for her and then letting go and trusting that she will be safe.
At a certain point, we must trust our precious kids to make their own decisions. This is the preparation they need to be able to succeed in life. To bounce back from hardship, they first must experience hardship. We cannot protect them forever. We should not be protecting them forever.
So much of the job of parenting involves getting out of the way. Moving past our fear and believing that we’ve laid the groundwork for our children to discern right from wrong, to lead instead of follow, to learn from their mistakes.
I am incredibly proud of our fourteen-year-old daughter. She texted a few times from the retreat, happy updates about winning a game of Manhunt in the dark and the pouring rain by hiding in the brambles and dirt, eating pizza for lunch, staying up late chatting with her roommates from older grades.
I remember these types of things from my teen years. They are a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. We want to support Ava in these adventures and experiences, but it does help to talk openly about what it feels like to be the parent instead of the child.
How do you practice letting go of your kids as they move toward independence and adulthood?