In the end you have to trust your own upbringing of that child, now an adult, and trust that they will remember the lessons you’ve taught them
Parenting small children is a hawk-eyed act of protection, as you watch their every move to make sure they’re safe and sound. Then one day those little babes turn into toddlers, and the toddlers turn into teens, and before you know it, they’re ready to fly free… if you’ll only be brave enough to let them
On my first day in Big School, aged five and a half, I sat down at the table in Miss Bosman’s class, and informed my mother that she could go home. It would be fine, I said, and I would see her when school was over.
On my daughters’ first days at Big School, however, I stayed home, and sent them with their father. It wasn’t that I was trying to teach them anything – I just knew that I would sob like a baby, and that wouldn’t be helpful to anyone.
I’m not sure what happened in the quarter century between Sub A with Miss Bosman, and the day I became a mother, but somewhere along the line, I developed crippling separation anxiety. When my children and I are not together, I worry until we are reunited.
The logical, rational part of me has had to work very hard against anxious, emotional me, to ensure I raise capable, independent adults. Because that’s the job, I think – not to raise children, but to raise adults who will be valuable members of society, who contribute to it in positive ways.
The tricky part of parenting is that we have to raise adults, while allowing them to be children for as long as possible
And the tricky part is that we have to raise adults, while allowing them to be children for as long as possible. We have to feed, clothe, love and protect them, while simultaneously giving them the freedom they need to figure out who they are. Parenting is a bundle of contradictions that all have to be carefully balanced, and there’s no instruction manual.
I’ve raised both my girls to be independent. We’ve talked about the importance of financial independence, certainly, and I hope I’ve taught them to handle their money well when they start to earn a living one day. The older one has been working part-time since she was 16, and the younger one, who’s just turned 16, is busy putting a CV together and considering her options.
They can both look after themselves on the domestic front, and they both know how to change a car tyre, which is the bare minimum I require from them if they’re going to drive. They can sew on a button, put up a hem. They don’t know how to do tax – I’ve taught them to pay an expert in that area. But I’ve tried hard to instil a sense of independence in them, in being able to stand on your own two feet in the most practical sense.
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Most importantly, they also both have a really good sense of self, and that’s probably down to a combination of parenting, education and therapy. They understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and we emphasise the strengths and ensure they put those into practice as often as possible.
I have two magnificently independent creatures, and it’s utterly terrifying
So now I have these two magnificently independent creatures, and it’s utterly terrifying.
The 19-year-old can drive. She goes out with her friends and disappears for hours on end. And it’s not exactly empty nest syndrome, because she still lives at home, but there’s a definite separation that’s happened. Of course, it’s all normal and natural, but it takes some adjustment in my own head.
When they’re little, you see, you’re in charge. You drive them to where they need to be. Sometimes you even hang around until they’re done playing, or doing ballet, or having that swimming lesson. But you check out the places they go, the people they meet, and you have a pretty good sense of what they’re up to.
And then suddenly, it’s out of your hands. And it takes quite some getting used to. There have been nights when I have lain in my bed, rigid with anxiety, waiting for that Uber to arrive, and for my daughter and her friends to be disgorged onto the pavement outside my house. Sometimes it feels as if I don’t exhale until that gate slides open.
And I am inordinately grateful that the ‘don’t drink and drive’ message has gone home at least, but on any given night I can conjure up a million dastardly scenarios of other things that can go wrong. But as both my daughters gently remind me when the worry starts to mount, I was only 17 when I went away from home to university and I coped just fine. There’s no earthly reason they shouldn’t cope too.
And in the end, I guess, you just have to trust your own upbringing of that child, now an adult, and trust that they will remember the lessons you’ve taught them, and figure out the rest on their own, just as you and many others before them did.
And then stand back, let go, take a deep breath and watch in wonder as those once tiny, helpless babes in your arms, take off and fly.