I’ve been reflecting on parenting a lot lately–how it changes as your kids grow. When they’re little, parenting is an exhausting slog of meeting physical needs. Do you remember the sleep deprivation? The agonizing over whether to feed them rice cereal or sweet potato first? The constant vigilance over their safety as they learned to move about the world? The tears and the smiles. The sleep deprivation–did I already say that?
Then come the toddler years, full of play so alternately-wonderful-and-agonizingly-boring I often wondered if I could gouge my own eyes out with a plastic dinosaur. My daughter used to spin elaborate “role playing” scenarios: Mama, I’m going to be a mermaid and I have medium brown skin and a green tail with kind of aqua scales right on the tip and I have long flowing hair that’s braided with an orange feather and I have some purple flowers right here and then I have bras made of orange and purple seashells and my name is Cassidy and I have a pet dolphin named Banana who is blue with a shell necklace. Mama, are you listening? Well then, what color feather do I have in my hair?
Elementary years: where kids make friends and lose friends and experience the joys of school and the boredom of some-parts-of-school. My kids first experienced being left out on the elementary school playground. My daughter was surrounded by other girls and grilled/taunted. My one son was told to “man up” and not be “too sensitive.”
As they get older, I found parenting focused on allowing them as much independence as possible within a structure that set boundaries. They learned to express themselves, and tried all sorts of behaviors and activities. I did lots of modeling relationships, lots of discussions about identifying emotions and acting on them appropriate. Lots of listening.
My three kids are all tweens and teens now, in middle school and high school. Two of my kids are taller than I. One of my kids is dating for the first time. All of them have friends I haven’t met yet. Each of them still needs some boundaries and reminders–that’s enough screen time, did you brush your teeth?, drop that tone of voice and talk to your family like you love us–yet each of them yearns for more freedom. So what’s my role as a parent now?
I want to be the safe place they can bring anything and everything.
I want to be the person who will always listen and believe them.
I want to be able to share my own experiences in ways that are helpful, but to always remember they are their own people with their own ways of solving problems and thinking about the world. I want to give them that space.
I want them to start seeing me as a person, not “just” Mom.
I want them to understand the richness of our authentic selves. I want them to know IT GETS BETTER. After these teenage years–these hard, hard teenage years–it DOES get easier to be your full and authentic self.
I want them to know I understand how hard these years are. And I’m here, no matter what comes next.
I want to be fully present, fully loving, fully safe.
I want to hold them close, even as I hold my breath and watch them walk away.