Letting go of a soon-to-be adult daughter is perhaps the hardest thing I have done. For those who know me well, standing on the sidelines of any part of life is not a trait that comes naturally to me and the acceptance of, and maneuvering through, this astonishingly beautiful, astonishingly challenging, stage in my mother-daughter relational life has humbled me and caused me to search deep within my psychological and maternal self for answers – and for strength. This transitional time has caused me to reflect, to listen even harder, and to painstakingly work at our relationship so as to retain the strong, healthy bond I’ve enjoyed with my daughter for the first 17 years of her life.
Watching my friends with preschool-aged children has admittedly become bittersweet, given this time and the upcoming departure of my oldest daughter for college. The easy years of being seen only as the hero or the luxury of delivering my wisdom to an awe-stricken young mind without question or challenge of validity, are memories that impose themselves upon my mother-mind as I (once again) say something wrong, or annoying, or that causes my daughter to swoosh out of the room with a dismissive hair-flying turn of her head.
And yet last weekend, we laughed and belted out “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the car as we drove late-night back roads while touring colleges from Oregon to Colorado to Pennsylvania. And came home smiling.
We re-connected and re-aligned once again amidst our ever-changing mother-daughter dynamics as my daughter, Stirling, continues to evolve, to blossom and to confidently grow away from me, and into herself.
The following is a note to myself that I thought I would share with you, reminding me of what has helped us cultivate a close, respectful mother-daughter relationship, and what I am still learning regarding the need to allow my “child” to move forward in a healthy and empowered manner, without me.
Ode to the Challenges and Joys of Loving, and of Letting Go
1. ALWAYS treat your child with respect, invite their opinions, and be open to their point of view, even when it is different than yours. This helps to create emotional safety and a solid foundation for communication that is honest and assertive, as well as an interpersonal experience that will help facilitate a powerful feeling of self-worth.
2. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are wrong, or to model healthy introspection (that is age appropriate). Sharing with your teenager your emotional process and insights related to an issue or conflict with them, will help them learn how to explore and share THEIR emotional triggers and processes with you, and with others. It will also serve to illustrate healthy experiences of interpersonal vulnerability and the ability to be emotionally open, to both yourself and others.
3. Trust the abilities of your teenager’s developing self. As a teacher-mom, this is certainly my most difficult task in process! Especially with major life events, learning to let go and to trust your teenager’s ability to manage major decisions and deadlines is difficult. Unfortunately, when you do not step back, it inadvertently gives your teenager the message that you do not trust them, or have faith in their abilities or their self.
4. Stay connected to, and readily engage in, your teenager’s world. Listen to their music with them, let them vent about people in their life, and know their teachers’ names and characteristics. This gives them the all-important message that you care about them, and their world. It will also give you points of conversation with your teen and the ability to be close enough to know if something is wrong.
5. Don’t take their normal, healthy attempts at separation-individuation personally. Soon-to-be- adult children NEED to break away from their parents. Especially if the relationship has been close, pushing away is a normal developmental phenomenon, even though it can feel hurtful or be painful for a parent.
Loving your child enough to step back as they step forward is an admittedly difficult task. As I go through this personally, and sit with client-parents experiencing similar “loss” over the maturation and growth of their children, I am reminded that the bonds that were formed during early stages in life WILL survive the ironic pain of this healthy separation-individuation process at this stage in life.
In love and heart!