The extreme journey from utter control to complete release of control in parenting is frightening. No one seems to travel it bump-free. It’s more like a free-fall, hitting your head; spraining your ankle; losing your balance, and landing in a heap at the bottom wondering what happened.
The small defenseless lumps of skin, more puppy than human, steal our hearts. We turn to mush trying to nurture them, get them to sleep, make sure they are eating. We teach them to eat real food. We teach them to share. “Use your words, honey,” we say in that Romper Room voice we all somehow take on without trying.
They need us for EVERYTHING. “Mommy, look what I made! Watch me swim! You play with me! Take me to Target! Buy me pizza! How do I tie this? Can you make my hair look like Barbie?” (No. No one can.)
And then almost overnight they seem to need us for nothing. “You’re embarrassing me. Mom, we can go into Target ourselves. No one wears their hair that way anymore.” And that’s where the free-fall starts, because you cannot continue to walk the path of control alone. You are no longer needed for that job, because right now no one is needed for that job. You are now being summoned for a new job, without notice, effective immediately.
Your mission, whether you choose to accept it or not, involves stepping aside. It involves humbling yourself. It involves loving your child in a new way than you are used to. It involves loving them in the way they want to be loved. Continuing to teach and guide with new rules and new mores. More subtlety. More sensitivity. Respect for their emerging personhood. Role modeling more than telling. Smiling more than teaching. Hugging more than frowning and eye-rolling.
It is so easy to focus on our own aggravation. On our own insultedness. Exasperation. But here’s a seismic shift: focus on your child’s angst instead. Because growing up is hard. You may think your teen has it made in the shade, but teens do not have it easy. Becoming a grownup is a messy and ugly process, full of awkward and yuck. They make it look so chilled but it’s an inferno in there. Trust me, you don’t want to be them.
So be kind. You’re the grownup – your good behavior has to come first. And then your children will follow suit. They will use their words. They will share. They will shower. They will eat their vegetables (no guarantees). You change the music and they will change the dance. You remain the constant. You stay calm and unruffled.
And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. This stuff ain’t for sissies. Being mature and stepping aside and learning new jobs takes your kishkes out of you. So bond with friends. Be honest in your journey. Take care of your body and soul. Seek friends who make you feel okay with the world. Pray.
Remember it’s not about you. Your kids are a G-d-given trust to care for and eventually let go. They are not your prizes or your trophies. They are not your Instagram and your Facebook. Children are not pottery, to mold and display. They are gardens, to tend with love, to pray and hope, to stand back and see what unexpected beauty emerges.