She is entering her sophomore year of high school next week. A driver’s license is in the not-so-distant future. Maybe a job, as well.
With every passing day, I watch her continue to change. Those changes are more subtle now than when she was small and every new experience seemed to bring dramatic growth and differences within her.
In many ways, I feel like all of my parenting thus far was to get us to this point: a place where she could navigate the changes coming her way independently, while also knowing she had a soft place to fall.
I used to push her. I know her potential and I know her talents. My biggest fear was that they would be wasted.
But I came to a realization at some point that those types of fears were pointless. My job is not to impose my dreams for her on her. But to simply help navigate her through the decisions that she has ahead. She is most certainly an extension of myself, but she is not me. And I have to understand and treat her like an individual.
If I haven’t done anything else right, I know my daughter. I really know her. I listen. And I try to parent her in a way that allows her to grow. Not in my expectations for her, but the ones she has for herself.
I’ll admit, she’s been an easy kid for the majority of her upbringing. Strong-willed, prone to anxiety, but she’s not defiant or disrespectful. She is strong. And capable. And the only thing that stands in her way are the obstacles of her own mind.
As parents, we need to know our kids. Not just know what we want to be true for them, but really know them. Their dreams. Their fears. Their needs. Protecting them from what could hurt them while also giving them the space they need to become.
At some point, we have to believe that what we’ve tried to do as parents will be enough. We have to let them begin to lean into their own lives.
What WE begin to do at that point may seem like letting go, or a relinquishment of control, but it’s more about an understanding. And with my daughter now 15, I’m fast approaching this point in my parenting journey.
I know, from personal experience, that by the time I was 15, I was DESPERATE to make my own choices. Now, I was a know-it-all, so I was infinitely more stubborn than my child who, though she could argue with a stump, still leans on me for support.
But she wants the freedom to make choices about her future. And to impose my will on her would only serve one purpose: resentment.
I made a lot of mistakes in my adolescence. But I am who I am today because of those decisions. I see how they ultimately shaped my life, eventually for the better. And I can live with them, have peace with them, because I made them. No one made them for me.
When I decided to get married at 17, my parents were, understandably, not a fan of the idea. But they knew that I’d need a place to come back to, so they treated me like I wouldn’t fail, even though they probably knew in the back of their minds what would inevitably happen.
They had so many opportunities to say “I told you so.” when my first marriage ended in divorce. They could have been bitter and frustrated with me. But they showed me grace before the fall, and grace afterward.
And that is what we have to do. We have to love and support our children, even through the decisions that we may want to make for them, and make sure they know that we believe in them, no matter what. Because, ultimately, it’s not their decisions that matter as much as the relationship we’ve built with them.
My daughter could and likely will live an entirely different life than I have. In many ways, I hope so! But, no matter what, I simply want to know that she knows that I have her back.
We should expect excellence from them, but recognize that excellence for each individual looks as different as their own unique goals and desires.
How boring would the world be if our children were only copycat versions of ourselves? How much would they, and we, miss, if we didn’t let them spread their wings and challenge themselves in ways uniquely their own to attempt?
I am not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination. And I don’t let my teenager do whatever she wants. I do, however, believe that she has the tools to become an incredible adult. I’ve spent 15 years showing her how to use them.
And it’s almost time to let her try for herself.