My latest Terrace Standard column seems an appropriate thing to share on the heels of Mother’s Day. . . . I did most of my young mothering without my own mother or mother-in-law around to help or offer advice and I’ve always wondered if that loss and lack made me more neurotic than other moms. More and more, however, I feel comforted (er, wrong word, perhaps, but the closest I can find) that no, most of us feel wildly unprepared and terrified for every stage of our children’s lives, even while we’re thrilled and excited for them. Thoughts?
p.s. A special call out to my lovely, supportive step mom who is always the first to reassure me that all my angst is normal and that you never fully stop worrying about your kids.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –All is Right
When my children were small, I used to tiptoe into their rooms at night to watch their sweet sleeping faces. I would say it was for their benefit, that I wanted to make sure they were settled, but really it was to reassure myself that this loveliest of experiences was real. No matter what stress or problems nagged or future worries loomed, in the now, my children were sleeping, were safe.
I’ve never lost the awe and gratitude I felt at their births. Even now, I sometimes gawk at grown-up them and feel overwhelmed with it.
There were trying times through the years, of course. Exhaustion, heartbreak, turmoil, and guilt. (Ah, guilt that horrible part and package of becoming a parent, seeing first hand that no matter how hard you try, you’ll still fail them and be completely inadequate in some pretty crucial ways.) Yet through it all, the dominant emotion I associate with parenting was—and is—joy. Joy and deep thankfulness.
That said, the last two or so years have been tough. I knew my job would change once my children became adults, but I didn’t know how or in what ways—and I fully counted on my worrying about them to decrease. (I hear you other parents of adult kids laughing right now, and it’s not helpful. Not helpful at all!) More frequently than ever before, I was at a loss for what to do, what to say. . . .
Thanks to help from parents I admired and to a lot of reading, I knew how to rear babies and toddlers (which isn’t to say I did so well—but I knew the basics and could aspire to higher things). Ditto children and tweens. And I was one of those annoying parents who enjoyed raising my teenagers. (Don’t worry: I also pulled out a lot of hair and wept buckets too. I think that’s the developmental norm for parents of children that age.)
But adulthood? Somehow, seemingly overnight, I was supposed to trust we’d instilled the tools they needed to maneuver life, provide for themselves, build healthy relationships, etc., etc.
For a while, I went backward in my parenting skills. I struggled (struggle!) with letting go. It’s just that I have all this hope and love and desire for them, coupled with a truth we all learn pretty quickly: life can kick the heart out of you sometimes. I desperately wanted (want!) to spare them any pain. But that’s inner-Ev. Outer-Ev is more sensible and knows full well their lives and decisions are on them now—as they must be for them to mature into healthy, independent adults.
Thankfully, after some blue, anxious months, I had a small epiphany. My daughter was sharing some issue and as I opened my mouth to give suggestions, she held up her hand. “You don’t have to fix this, Mom. It’s not your job.”
A light went on. She was right. “Fixing things” for her isn’t my job anymore—and hasn’t been for some time.
Then I read an article, “The Danger of Micromanaging your Teenagers” by Mike Duran. It affirmed how my husband and I tried to raise our kids—and provided guidance for this next phase. He described parenting adults as a partnership. You’re still there for them, but as equals facing life together. You’re supportive, not dictatorial. Available, but not hovering.
I know I’ll be tempted to micromanage or to give more advice than is appropriate again (It’s just so hard not to look at them and see the toddlers who needed so much of me!), but I’ve been at peace since getting this tidbit of insight.
Will I still sneak into their bedrooms to check on them if I get the chance? Of course! Heh. Got you. Of course not. Part of me, however, will always want to. Just to know they’re all right. And to reassure myself that this loveliest of all experiences is real. I am the parent of adults, and in the now, they’re safe.
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“All is Right” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, April 29, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”