Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
– Dr. Seuss
Great advice from someone who really knew how to make people smile. As I help my firstborn child prepare for her freshman year of college, I’m trying to take this advice to heart. But, I must admit, there are times when this is much easier said than done.
As I leaf through childhood photos and update the final pages in her “School Years” book, I realize I started letting her go when she entered high school. A typical first-born female, she readily embraced the greater independence and responsibility of high school. Gradually, we had less contact with her teachers; she managed her schedule, selected her friends, and–once she got her license, and a car—she literally took off! Suddenly, my carpool days were over. As much as I sometimes dreaded schlepping teenagers from one activity to another, I did miss it. Seemingly, all at once, I had time to tend my weedy yard and enjoy the view.
Sounds ideal, right? That’s what we’re supposed to do as our children become more independent—fill our time with meaningful projects. In my experience, at least, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I almost guiltily enjoyed my new leisure, but on another, I was restless and distracted until she came home and filled me in on her day and what she had planned for the evening, etc. (I know, this is the luxury of having a girl—they share way more than boys.) About halfway through her sophomore year, I went back to work part-time and continued freelance writing. That helped with the restlessness.
The high school years were a continuous tug-of-war–trying to balance her pull for more freedom with my desire to reign her back in. But, it taught me how to shift my parenting role from one of dispensing the “rules” to listening more and offering guidance. As the college administrators are advising us newbie freshman parents, we are to become their coaches, so these very young adults can learn to seek out their new advisors and mentors to make their own decisions.
Ok, but … there’s still so much more to tell her, to show her. Yet, the summer weeks fly by and she accumulates more and more stuff to haul off to college. I have to let go of these thoughts. I have to trust that she has internalized the values we tried to instill in the midst of our day-to-day interactions (both good and not so good) over the years. There’s no more second guessing; it’s done–nearly anyway.
Yes, I realize I am fluctuating. One minute I’m ready to help plan her dorm room; the next, I’m wringing my hands over how to remind her once more about her personal safety, not to leave her phone, laptop, and other important items sitting out, or some other inane advice. Then, there’s the whole question of what I’m going to do at home with two boys—husband and son. But, I think that’s normal. This is a process that’s not going to happen overnight. I have to acknowledge the emotional tug-of-war I’m in once again and, as Dr. Seuss says, smile through it.
For now, I’m focusing on enjoying our summer together as much as possible. For later, I’m planning to hold onto my cherished memories with her and my hopes and dreams for her bright future. In between, I’m making mental notes on projects I want to do at home, maybe at church, books I want to read, day trips, and the people with whom I hope to either stay in touch or reconnect. The tug-of-war continues.
Please share your experience with letting go of loved ones. What worked? What should we avoid?
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