In about a month, my son will graduate from college. Since he's my youngest, this means that my days as a "mom" who gives my kids their allowance, reminds them of doctor's appointments, thank you notes, bank deposits, getting their cars washed, registering for classes, calling their grandmothers, ordering contact lenses, buying new underwear, and so many other things... those days are over.
There is no pop-up ad on the computer screen of life that tells you when to notice the important moments, nor is there a fast-forward or rewind button allowing you to plan ahead for what's to come or go back and fix what's happened. The gradual moment-to-moment events of our children's lives ensure that change, when it comes, is not a shock to our systems like it could be if, Rip Van Winkle-like, we were to fall asleep when they were 12 and wake up when they turn 21. The permutations and twists and turns in our children's (and our own) lives are what make each transition a little easier to understand, though sometimes emotionally difficult to bear.
Like with all children, raising my son was filled with moments that defined who he would become as a man. There he was at 18 months old, getting fitted for glasses to correct his lazy eye, wearing a patch to pre-school for a year. There he was at 5, starting kindergarten and meeting friends he still talks to every day. There he was at 8, walking to school alone for the first time. There he was at 14, hitting a triple in his last year playing little league baseball. There he was at 15, saying goodbye to the grandfather he loved so much. There he was at 17, starting on the varsity football team, when he was sidelined by a stress fracture to his femur, ending the best season of sports he'd ever had.
And here he is now, almost 22, almost graduated, with a job waiting for him that he loves and...well. Had you told me this would happen four years ago, when he started college, I might have had my doubts. Not that he wasn't capable, or smart, or even motivated. He just didn't seem to me to be fully formed yet -- a little out of focus, if you will. I watched my little boy -- all 6'1″ of him -- walk into his dorm the day we dropped him off at school and I knew -- I just knew -- that it wasn't going to be easy for him. I was right. The work was difficult, the social life was challenging, the hot, desert weather was oppressive. Just living on his own, in a dorm room with a roommate he despised -- that was enough to worry any mother, right?
My husband and I tried to be two steps ahead of every possible dilemma that might come our son's way, anxious to help smooth the bumpy road he traversed as a college freshman. We were still piloting that pesky helicopter that had been parked in our driveway all of his life.
Then, after he came home junior year to go to community college for a semester -- and, making the best choice he's ever made, decided to go back to the university he had left -- my husband and I finally did something smart.
We left him alone.
Not that we weren't there for him when he called. Not that we stopped worrying or thinking or wondering. Not that we ever stopped loving him fiercely. We just let him figure it out on his own. We finally decided to trust that he would make things work. And when we did that, he started to come into focus. It was as if a pair of binoculars were in front of my eyes and I had finally found the right setting. Or maybe he had.
What we must do for our older children -- especially the ones who seem a little lost -- is to learn to trust them, to believe in them, to encourage them to find their own way.
Let them figure out what's going to make their lives come together, to bring clarity to their future. Let them stumble and make their own mistakes without rushing to fix things for them. Let them find the thing that they will feel as passionate about as we do about them. Let them grow up, grow away, grow strong.
The best thing we can do is to let them go.
Previously published on Empty House Full Mind
Read more from Sharon on Midlife Boulevard
Follow Sharon Greenthal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sharongreenthal