My 20 year old daughter who’s living at college, is close enough to come home frequently for 1 or 2 day visits almost every week. When she comes home, I get that same eager feeling I got when she would come home from grammar and high school: giddy, happy, heady with excitement to share time with her. Since she was born, she’s been one of my most favorite people in the world, and I look forward to her visits, exhilarated and happy to be able to spend time with her, to cook her favorite foods, share a TV show with her, hear how her classes are going, hear her very opinionated thoughts on the world and life, now that she’s 20 and growing more and more independent.
And I’m struggling to learn how not to tell her what to do, but to give her gentle suggestions or recommendations instead. Trying to remember to couch my sentences with “maybe you might consider” or “have you thought about” or “what do you think” as I tread carefully trying not to push her away as she learns to live life by her own ground rules.
I’m torn. I want to move closer, move in, get into the meat of things and hear what’s really happening in her life. It’s like a dance.
But she doesn’t want her mothers advice and why should she? At this stage in my own life, I was living on my own with no parental supervision and didn’t want advice from anyone because I was doing it all on my own, thank you very much. She’s just as strong willed and smart and able and focused as I was, if not more so because she has a stronger foundation of parental support to draw from than what I experienced.
So I try to tone it down. I don’t show the excitement I feel when she’s here, I casually say “Oh, hi there,” when she walks in (even though I’ve most likely been obsessively looking forward to her arrival for hours, sometimes even checking the driveway to be sure her car hasn’t driven up yet) so that she doesn’t pull away from me before she even gets in the door.
I don’t jump up to give her a hug, I let her assimilate herself back into the house, let her play with the dog and the cat and check for food first, before I gingerly circle over to where she’s standing and start to talk to her. I am trying, ever so hard, not to let her know how much I miss her.
The other day there was a Facebook memory that showed up with a picture of the two of us at the Revlon Run Walk in 2010, the year I was sick. In the picture we stand together, with our arms around each other and I remember how affectionate she was that day. Another walker came up to her and said “Hug your mother, let her know you love her, my mother died of breast cancer and I miss her so much. You’re so lucky to have her here.” And she did, she hugged me. And I told her I “only” had early stage breast cancer and I wasn’t going to die and it was all going to be over soon and she looked at me calmly and said she knew that all along. And when the picture popped up on my Facebook feed, I was kind of torn again, as I realized how far we’d both grown since that very intense shared moment.
While she’s here we get along and she talks to me and everything is so nice and cozy for about 24 hours and then she decides to go back to school and is gone in a flash, and I’m standing in an empty house, wondering when she’ll come home again. With that torn feeling in my heart as once again I find myself in a dance that I’m engaged in without a partner. The dance of parenting.
But don’t get me wrong, there are some very good things about the kids growing up and moving on. Which is where I get torn, again. Feeling guilty and torn about having so much time to myself, torn about not worrying about them constantly and just letting them figure things out.
It’s kind of great that my husband and I can go out whenever we want without worrying about the kids; don’t have to schedule every single moment of our lives in order to ensure that someone is around to pick the kids up or take them some where. The house stays a lot neater, the refrigerator isn’t as crammed full of food so I can actually see what’s in there, since it’s just basically enough for the two of us, ’cause my 18 year old son never eats here and is always out with friends at this point in his life.
Every now and then, they come for advice when they’re trying to figure something out, and I love to jump right back in and help. It makes me feel needed again and useful. But it’s a different kind of help as I’m trying to teach them how to do it themselves. I leave notes, or send texts. My latest is reminding them to register to vote since both are over 18 and this certainly is an important election we’re facing. I text them reminders, print out the voter registration forms and leave them strategically on their beds. But you know, if they don’t register, it’s their decision. I can only plant the seeds; they have to water them and take the next steps in the process.
I’m pretty sure it’s all going to work out but I have a feeling I’ll be torn like this for the rest of my life. My mother always said, “A mother never stops worrying about her children, even when they’re 40 years old, I still worry.” I get it now. I can see I’ll always worry about them but we’re all 4 of us learning how to do the family thing in a new way, now that we’re all 4 adults.