The other day Louise and I had a “fight”. Well, truth be told, she was cranky and wanted space but Yours Truly was hovering, not giving her any, and she blew. After a very distinct eye roll and an unspoken “shut up Mom”, I turned my back to her. I stood at the kitchen window looking outside at the vast whiteness of the side yard, listening to her pound out a stream-of-consciousness vent on her computer. I put my hand on my hip and tried to look nonchalant, as though I was waiting for the coffee to finish dripping. Behind me, she viciously hit the Enter key one final time then abruptly got up and went into her room. My tears started flowing at that point and I stood there, unable to move, unable to think, feeling the tears stream down my face until they were dripping off my chin. It occurred to me after a full day of personal reflection that I was being what I said I would never be – a helicopter mom.
A few years ago, while still in a neurotic protective parenting phase (probably somewhere in between Louise’s facial surgery and her broken pelvis), I read an article in a national magazine about helicopter parents. You all know someone like that – they hover over their children, managing every aspect of their lives. We’re not about talking normal, concerned parents, we’re talking about ones that need to know everything that’s going on and need to be involved in all of it. At the time, my thoughts were, “Well, that’s just dumb! What sort of busybodies ARE these people, calling their college children to see if they’ve eaten breakfast?” Turns out, they’re a lot like me.
In my defense, I am the parent that has been responsible for the vast majority of Louise’s upbringing. From being the parent volunteer coordinator at her school to being the only parent who would step up and take over the Girl Scout troop, she’s been my focus since birth. She slept in a laundry basket on my bed when she was just born, because I couldn’t get out of bed until my C-section healed completely. Also, because Rick worked such long hours to build his business, most of the parenting has fallen on me. Playing in a refrigerator box, spending a week in the hospital with her, soothing tears over her mean math teacher, finding solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems were all my domain, and I embraced every task with complete dedication and focus. As she grew, I was witness to her growing intellect, integrity, compassion and individuality. What an honor! She is, to this day, my favorite person in the world. Is it any wonder, then, that relinquishing that focus is difficult?
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” I think that’s partially right. I think Love is the critical ingredient in the parent/child relationship. So many kids grow up without it. However, we don’t “own” our children. They are not creatures in a cage, ours to give or to keep or to “set free”. We are the people chosen to guide them to adulthood and be their safety net. If we do our job right, they will seamlessly leave our homes and create their own and will keep us in their lives because they choose to; because they love us. They are not required to, nor should we make them feel guilty for not doing so. It occurs to me that perhaps this proverb was meant to be understood from the viewpoint of the child; that THEY are the ones who need to consciously let their parents go to fulfill the destiny they were meant to have. Perhaps the one that needs to fly free is me. Perhaps I am the one imprisoned in the job description. I need to think about that more…
Honestly, looking inward, I have lost myself in the job of being a mother. Correction … I allowed myself to get lost in the job. Happily. Motherhood is intoxicating. It brings a joy unlike any other I have experienced. Now that Louise is 18, though, that parenting model no longer works for any of us. She is a strong, intelligent woman who knows what she wants, has a plan and is going out to conquer the world. She has set her sights high, because she knows she has support if she falls. At least, that’s what I hope she’s thinking. I don’t ask anymore – that would be hovering.