I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware
of what they’re going through
(Turn and face the stranger)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
David Bowie said a lot of things best, but this may be most apropos to my life right now. Our girls, newly graduated from high school and 18 are personified by the verse, but also me. I often don’t know where to flop with all the evolving dynamics and transitions at work in our family.
David and I have always been the kind of parents who try to give their kids ch-ch-ch-Choices. I never wanted to “lay down the law” to my kids or be the type of mom who says “because I SAID SO” although I know there is a time and a place for these things in the complex parenting continuum. We have wanted the girls to be able to make a decision and live with that decision, good or bad, so that they could learn the value of consideration, reflection and sometimes, recovering from mistakes.
That said, it is so hard right now to stick to that strategy.
18 year old choices are so much more complicated than 4 year old choices. And, while David and I don’t really remember too many of the mishaps and bad decisions of our early youth, we certainly remember and sometimes lament the choices we made when we were young adults. I know that my girls are not me. I know they have been parented differently than I was. I know they are bright, level-headed, good people. And I trust them; let me just say that.
But there are tricky people out there. There are temptations beyond measure. There are sure mistakes wrapped up to look like fun and games. There are doubts and regret. There is pain and heartbreak and dark, seething wounds waiting to be opened.
David and I always characterize parenting this way—It never gets easier, it just gets different. We have always been concerned about our girls’ safety—and now we can’t hold their hands anymore. We can’t protect them like we could when they were much younger. We have to let them go. This is the difference of this time. This is one of the oh so many ch-ch-ch-changes.
On top of that whopper, David and I are dabbling in the “empty nest syndrome” and what that will mean. Right now, we get to test it out in increments. We can leave the girls home alone overnight and take little trips. The girls are often off with friends and boyfriends and so we find that we have more time to be us, do things that are not related to parenting and enjoy each other’s company without it turning into a discussion of logistics for our family. This has been nice.
And then, WHAM, one of the girls has a dark night of the soul and NEEDS us. We have been involved in long, convoluted discussions and tearful sessions of searching for the right mix of us as parents “being available” but not stepping across a boundary (that seems to always be a moving target) that the girls feel is tantamount now that they are “adults.”
It is a weird place to be. Needed and then not needed. Wanted and then unwanted. I often feel like I am on a programed treadmill that tries to take you through your paces—up and down hills, faster and slower–and I try to respond in kind. I fell off a treadmill once and it hurt like hell. I STILL, seven years later, have a damaged spot on my leg from this fall. I am constantly afraid, in this newly minted changeable atmosphere with my daughters, that I will fall off the treadmill.
I don’t like the unknown and I am certainly a control freak. (I’m working on it, OK?) I think this probably exacerbates the feeling of being stunned that I experience every time I’m told by the girls that I’ve overstepped my bounds, that I am butting in where I’m not wanted, that they are already fully aware of what I am trying to convey to them. Some people say this is good. That David and I have prepared them for their lives and that their pushback is a sign of this.
So I try to listen more than I talk. I try to be available but not in a hovering sort of way. David and I are doing our own thing when the girls are doing their own thing. And we’ve re-instituted some of our family traditions that fell by the wayside as they have grown older–like each parent spending a day with one of the girl alternately so we each get each girl to ourselves on a regular basis and each girl gets some quality time with each parent alone. And the girls are happy about this. They still like our attention. They still think that we are cool and want to spend time with us. They just don’t really want unsolicited advice that they feel like they’ve heard before.
And so it is. Change is the only constant. Once this phase passes, another will move into its place in that “stream of warm impermanence.” Trying to be a stone in that stream is the difficult part and one that I will be striving for until the day I die.