Two days ago, my daughter turned 23. I sat amazed at how quickly those years whizzed by. It feels like just yesterday when I was walking in Providence, RI, looking at those wonderful mansions, and realizing that I was going into labor. My then-husband and I, and my aunt, who was visiting, rode the 2 1/2 hours back to New Haven, CT. calmly, if somewhat stressed. I walked into Yale-New Haven Hospital at about 9:30 p.m. I remember that it was a Saturday, and “Golden Girls” was on when I left our apartment. At 1:38 a.m., Caroline Amanda Smith was born.
So, she’s a young woman now, “old” by standards of referring to one’s children, yet still in need of a parent. My son will be 21 in October, and both of them now tax me on the newness of parenting they need at this stage of their lives.
Because for sure, they DO need parenting,but the trick is, “how” does one do it? My daughter is parent-savvy, meaning, she knows how to filter my occasional forays into parental advice, tune me out and then back in when she deems it necessary. She knows how to give a polite smile, a slight nod, or an intensely interested look, though I am sure she wishes I would relax. For my part, I offer “parenting” in small doses. I usually begin a conversation that I know she will not want to hear with a question of permission: “Would you mind if I am a ‘mother’ for 30 seconds?” I ask her. She will know that I am about to say something that she is most likely not going to want to hear, but the covenant I make, and keep, is that I will keep my “mothering’ to a 30-second sound bite. I will state what I observe, and what I advise, and then leave it alone.
It takes a lot of discipline.
My son is a different story. He is SO trying to find himself, and he SO does not want his mother in this phase of his life. He refuses to cut or comb his hair right now. I cannot stand it. In my mind, I scream,”I didn’t raise you like that!” but after noting, whenever I see him,that his hair is a bit “interesting,” I say nothing. He told me last week he was going to go get it cut, remembering how I commented on it, but then said, “no! I like my hair this way,” and the trip was trashed.
He keeps going from job to job. It is SO not the right thing to do. He is a bright kid, an amazing musician and actor, who is trying to find out his niche in the world. He keeps getting jobs at restaurants that I know are not going to pay him and which are going to quickly bore him, but far be if for me to try to push or guide him to a more plausible life pattern. No, he’s got to find out for himself that going from job to job is a bad way to live, and he’s got to pay the consequences of his decisions. Is it killing me? Yes!! Do I have private tirades toward him, when he’s not around? Absolutely! Do I wish I could shake him? How about yes! But I have to let him find his path.
Parenting at this stage of our kids’ lives is super hard. The difficulty really begins when they hit puberty, as they fight for independence though they are so dependent on us it’s not funny. I had a policy of letting them find their way, not expecting me to get them out of trouble, and demanding respect regardless of how angry they were. It worked. I found they came to me from time to time to talk, which was good. But I bit my tongue a whole lot of times.
My son has caused my tongue biting to become a tad lethal. I mean, I almost have no tongue left. I know instinctively that he will be all right; I have faith and confidence in him and in the way I raised him. I am a bit disturbed that his finding his way is taking longer than I’d like, and is happening via a circuitous route, which I despise, but deep within, I know he will be all right, in his own right, and on his own terms.
To keep quiet is a test for me. My 30-second sound bites for my son are harder to offer than are the same for my daughter, but I know doing things any other way would spell disaster.
If ever a kid needs a parent to respect and trust him or her, it’s now. They’ve got to learn the things that earn trust and respect and those things which repel the same. They cannot be coerced to obey us, and they cannot coerce us to trust and respect them. No, this is a two-way journey for parent and child, a journey which I do not like … but one for which I pine for a conclusion.
There now. I feel a bit better. I am able now to offer another 30-second sound bite and go on my way.
That’s my very personal candid observation.