I've been feeling very contemplative lately. We're in the home stretch of child rearing and have just three years before our daughter is an adult. The past fifteen years have been both excruciatingly long and lightning quick, and it seems like we're just now starting to move in real time.
As a nervous first time parent, I started out armed with every book on babies and child development and tried to memorize every word. I was a mess the first four years of my daughter's life since she didn't follow any of the guidelines; wouldn't sleep in her crib, wasn't potty trained until four, and she still drinks out a baby bottle to this day (when no one's watching). I judged myself terribly, and was completely thrown off because I had been under the impression that as a perfect mother, she in turn would be a perfect child. And let me tell you, I was a perfect mother before she was born. It was only after her first day on earth that my superiority began to crumble.
As soon as I came to terms with the fact that my kid marched to her own drummer, I was able to throw the books away and watch the process of growing up with less anxiety. After all, she actually did start kindergarten wearing underpants and drinking from a cup. After the pressure lifted, my parenting style became one of conscious laziness. My husband and I both harkened back to our young carefree days, realizing that our parents hardly factored into our social and school lives at all. And I mean that in the very best way. My mom never played with me; in fact, she threw me out of the house daily and told me to return once the street lights came on. I'd hop on my bike or roller skates and was on my way. Once I was old enough to take the bus, I'd meet my friends at the mall and spend hours trying on clothes and looking for boys. And school? My mom showed up to my class once a year for Back to School Night, met my teacher and went home. And that was the norm. And we kids really liked it that way.
I don't know what happened by the time I became a parent. But there was suddenly a competition of who participated in their child's life more. Because nowadays, the most attentive parent wins.
But does the kid?
We're all reading about helicopter parenting now, and we're seeing a whole generation of helpless kids who need Mommy to fight their battles. Don't like your teacher? Don't worry, Mom will march right in there and demand a new one. Lose the soccer match? Oh, that's right—you didn't lose that soccer match, because there are no losers. From the time my daughter was young, I absolutely rebelled against this parenting style. And I'll tell you why. I need my child to grow up to be independent and fight her own battles and know how to take rejection and be tenacious and stand up for herself. And most of all, I need her to know how to be an adult when she becomes one. That's my job.
I also need my daughter to be independent so that I may be as well. I have my own life and my own interests that don't necessarily involve her, and she is not (nor should she be) my identity. She'll be heading to college in a few years starting her new life, after all, and I don't want to feel like mine is ending.
My husband and I have always encouraged our daughter to find her own solutions to dealing with bad teachers, grades, mean girls and all the challenges that are heaped upon young people. And because of this, she has problem solving skills that most adults lack. This doesn’t mean that we don’t step in when needed. But mostly she works things out on her own, and actually gets better results, as well as a sense of accomplishment.
What I'm finding so wonderful in this current stage of her life is how much I like my daughter. As a person. At fifteen, she's extremely smart, funny and interesting. And I'm still amazed that she has her own ideas and beliefs that didn't come from me or her dad. She is fundamentally her own person. And I so dig that.
As I watch my girl turn into this beautiful young woman, I'm so excited to witness her adventures and successes, and yes, even her failures. Because we all know it's going to happen. We can't keep our kids from the inevitable pain and heartache that they will someday experience, but we can guide them so they know how to handle it when it comes.