When they turn 18. When they get married. When they have kids of their own. When, if ever, is it time to stop parenting our children?
I have a 16-year-old daughter who flips between needing me furiously and furiously needing her independence. Knowing when to step in and when to pull back is a constant struggle. My own life is all I have to go on, and stepping in to save her from the pitfalls I’ve experienced myself often seems near impossible. But if it weren’t for those pitfalls, I wouldn’t be who I am today. This prompts me to question where that fine line is between sparing her potential pain and hindering her personal growth.
It’s early days now. She’s young and unquestionably needs my input, but I am aware of how quickly time is passing. At the moment, she’s a total total homebody and I can’t imagine her ever wanting to leave home. But one day she may well tell me that she’s heading to Australia to make babies with some guy she met backpacking in India. OK, so that was a pretty random scenario but you get my point. Eventually she’s going to move out — perhaps she’ll move far away. She’ll have her own moral compass. She’ll chose her own path, and then what’s my purpose? I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a dog lover, and a writer, but first and foremost I am Lucy’s mom. I don’t know what the future holds. Or rather, I don’t know what her future holds, and I guess that’s the hardest part.
She’s my child, but it’s her future.
People talk a lot about having ‘babies’ but in reality, we should talk about having ‘people.’ After all, the baby bit is a pretty teeny blip in the grand scheme of things. As parents, our job is to raise kind, strong, independent thinkers. This means letting go at some point, as my parents did when all three of their children bailed on university to pursue other seemingly less valuable endeavours, only to eventually return and earn qualifications that would allow each of us to enjoy successful careers.
It means letting us literally take flight, as my parents did when both my brother and I moved to Canada, as my paternal grandparents did when my father left Hungary during the revolution, and as my maternal grandparents did when my mother left Australia to work in England for a few months that turned into forever because she met my dad.
If you love something, set it free.
As I sat down to write this post, I thought about that famous but hard-to-source saying: If you love something, set it free. Initially I thought those words would capture the essence of today’s contemplation, but then I remembered the words that follow: If it comes back, it was yours; if it doesn’t come back, it wasn’t.
When it comes to loving your children, this line doesn’t wash with me. Our children are ours, even if they move away and don’t come back. They’re simply living their lives. We need to remember this.
So, where does this leave us? We’ll be forever parents, but we won’t be parenting forever.