The lesson not taught in parenting books...letting go

There are countless guides and parenting books for newborns and toddlers. Add in the endless opinions from other parents- and the kid-free experts- and there’s no shortage of suggestions for sleep schedules, best strollers, traveling with toddlers, even adjusting to the first school years. What these books don’t cover, though, is navigating the second phase of parenting…letting go.

momThere comes a time when you realize you’re not the center of your child’s universe anymore. One moment you’ve had a voice in mostly everything they’ve worn, ate, watched, and done virtually all day, every day. And then you don’t.

It’s sort of like needing cheater glasses. Gradually you find yourself enlarging texts and photos on your phone, and reading looks slightly blurry. Then one day you can’t read a damn thing up close. What the hell happened? It was fine yesterday.

Parenting a teenager is sort of like that.

You swear it was yesterday that they asked for an extra bedtime story…cuddled onto your lap…but then you realize you’re looking up to ask them a question, not down asking to hold their hand crossing the street.

Yesterday my 15 year old daughter returned home from her first trip to Europe. An international trip without us.

It was an “unofficial” school trip with plenty of chaperones and close to 40 students, but no family. Selfishly, no me.

Preparation for the trip began over a year ago. I had nearly fourteen months of enthusiastically convincing her dad that this was an incredible opportunity for her.

Hell- he and I had backpacked Europe for eight weeks after college what was his hang up?
I did a three week exchange program to France in 5th grade.
I went to Italy my junior year with EF Tours- the same company my daughter’s group was using- the same company my sister traveled with eight years before me.

She’ll be fine! She’s confident…she’s independent…traveling is an incredible experience!

And then the day before she left it hit me.

My baby was traveling to another continent without me.

kaela-europeAnd I started to lose it a little. Watching friends hug her goodbye, wish her a safe trip, share favorite flavors of gelato…it all became real,

and I was questioning everything my husband had the previous year.

What if…what if…what if…

But we can’t live in what ifs.

The same night I felt the tears welling up, a friend congratulated me on my ability to selflessly let my daughter have this experience. This trip wasn’t about my anxieties or nerves, it was allowing her to open her wings a bit, a soft prep before college:

It was her chance to be independent (sort of)…to have an adventure (mostly planned)…to explore the world (with guidance).

In reality, this is what we’d spent years trying to accomplish.

When they’re little we worry that we’ll still be tying their shoes when they’re 20 (we won’t)
We worry that they’ll never sleep through the night (they will)
We worry that they’ll never leave our side and will live in our basements when they’re 40 (they won’t)

There are plenty of books teaching parents how to raise confident, independent young adults. What’s missing, though, are the guides to help parents cope when they’ve done their job.

She’s shared many pictures and stories about her trip with me, but I know that there are many more events from this adventure I’ll never hear. I’m trying to be ok with that.

wingIt feels like yesterday I wrote about her growing up and heading to highschool, then I blinked and she went across the ocean and will be a junior this fall.

I’m often asked if parenting teenagers is harder than parenting toddlers…when really the concerns are similar: you worry for their health, their safety…there’s just more outside factors now. You forget about the diapers and the first cuts & scrapes. And while they’ll eventually sleep through the night-and into the next afternoon-your sleepless nights return…when you’re listening for them to come home or watching their flight cross an ocean.

Even though I miss the holding hands crossing the street, I remember why I’m not wishing for them to stay little. I’m continually amazed watching my kids grow into mature young adults, despite a guide preparing me for their independence and navigating this next phase of parenting.

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