Parenting a Teenager: Holding on, Supporting, and Learning to Let Go
Parenting with Training Wheels
My daughter learned how to ride a bike about two weeks ago. That’s what it feels like anyway, but, actually over a decade has passed since my husband and I took turns running next to our daughter as she found her balance on her new bike. Then, we watched her ride down the sidewalk, wobbly at first, but proud of her mastery. It was one of those parenting moments that remains fresh and filled with poignant significance; parenting, after all, is about holding on, supporting, and letting go.
Some people say that parenting is the most difficult job in the world. As my daughter has grown from a child into a teenager, I have found that not parenting is much more problematic. As the binary answers of the toddler years fade into distant memory, I now have to know when to step back and trust her to make her own choices. The teenage years involve more nuances, listening, grey areas, and most of all, trust. Trusting a teenager, allowing her to wobble and to find her footing feels insane; we all know that teenagers’ decision making abilities can be… well… short sighted.
I have worked with teenagers for over a decade and while they experience drama, insecurity, and heartbreaking problems, they also buzz with energy and almost limitless possibilities. The world belongs to them and they have the confidence and required recklessness to take it on. While their path might not be what their parents had imagined, I always believed that teenagers need to practice their independence and find their balance on their first wobbly ride before they leave home for good. Parents need to remove the training wheels and trust their kids.
As my child became a teenager, however, I discovered an obsessive, hovering, mad woman lurking in the attic of my mind and I spend a great deal of time trying to keep her confined so that she doesn’t ruin my daughter’s existence.
I’m not always successful.
“Are you having fun?” I texted my daughter at a party a few weeks ago. I had agreed before and had done the requisite checks, but that evening crazy mom decided that I needed more information.
“Yes”, she replied.
“Can I come and get you? Perhaps the person who’s driving you home is a bad driver”.
“We agreed”, my daughter said. “It’ll be fine”.
I paused there, considering additional questions, but there is a fine line between protective and overbearing and I knew I was balancing on it.
I was a nervous wreck when my daughter arrived home on time and in peak health. I had spent the evening on the couch pretending to read while every horror story I’ve ever heard about teenagers played on an endless loop inside my mind.
My daughter is patient and accepts my lunacy with a bemused smile; she knows that I try to reign myself in, but every day is a new battle between me and the mad woman as I suppress my urge to micro manage. While the hovering I share with other parents stems from a love and care, I wonder whether we’re actually trying to help our children or coming up with excuses to hold on. Running next to that speeding bike is exhausting and might even be dangerous. What if we get tangled up and cause our child to fall? What if our loving interference becomes an obstacle to independence creating kids who can’t manage on her own?
My daughter understands the importance of the high school years. She and all her friends feel the pressure placed on them by their parents and the school.
“I don’t know what will happen next and I only have two years left of high school”, my daughter said when we were chatting one evening before bedtime.
“It’ll be an adventure”, I agreed, relieved that the mad woman had retreated.
“What’ll I do, if I don’t get into the college I want?” my daughter asked.
“I’m sure you’ll find another one that is right for you”, I said. “You might decide to take a gap year. You could learn Spanish, help refugees, or focus on your music. You could even try to live in my home country for a year. There’s an entire world out there.”
I do mean that. We seem to hurry to enter our children into the rat race. As all adults know, once you have graduated from college with student loans and car payments your space for exploring, wobbling, and learning shrinks. Perhaps we should allow our children to search for their paths without too much intervention from us. After all, did our parents always know what was best for us? Didn’t we know our own minds long before our parents were ready?
On my best days I accept that my daughter will have to find her own path through the wilderness. I want our home to be the place to which she returns for hugs, long talks, and plotting her next step. Perhaps she will make her best decisions if she feels that I’ll always support her. Letting go of my child is almost impossible, but it is the ultimate goal of parenting. Our children will figure out how to live their lives, just like we did so long ago.
We turned out okay, didn’t we?
About Daniela – Daniela Loose is a writer and high school teacher who lives in New England. Her writing has appeared on Club Mid @ Scarymommy as well as on Mothers Always writes. The mother of a teenager, her writing often explores the changes a family goes through as the children grow up.
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