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*beep beep beep*

*beep beep beep*

By Mir Kamin

Hear that beeping? That’s the sound of me backing up. Like a truck.

My natural inclination as a parent is to hover and talk (and talk and talk and talk) and try to fix. It has taken me years and—just being honest—lots of therapy to get me to a place where I can parent from a place of love and presumed competence rather than a place of love and abject terror. I probably would’ve had some fear even if I was raising completely neurotypical kids, but with special needs and a host of crises over the years in the mix, I was just plain scared a lot of the time.

I don’t know if you know this, but fear turns out not to be a great parenting strategy. (I know! I was surprised, too!)

For the longest time, I thought my job was to protect my kids. Protect them from bullying. Protect them from heartbreak. Protect them from being misunderstood. Protect them from pain. Protect them from themselves, sometimes. It’s exhausting. And what I finally learned is that it doesn’t work—if they can’t do this stuff for themselves, all I’ve done is rob them of the chance to grow and learn to adapt. And this is setting aside the reality that no one can protect their kids from everything, which meant every disappointment or defeat in their lives felt like failure in mine. (Did I mention the therapy? The therapy was very helpful.) Here’s the reality: My kids are close to leaving home. We have less than a year left with my oldest, and only an additional year with my youngest. There’s no shortage of articles out there about how college students are all delicate flowers who can’t handle emotional distress because their parents coddled them. I don’t want my kids to be part of that demographic. And so… I’ve been backing up the truck.

I’d love to tell you it’s been a simple, natural process. In my imagination, it goes something like:

My daughter is inexplicably struggling with something unexpected. I try to talk to her about it, but she only becomes more agitated. I give her a big hug and a kiss and tell her I know she can handle it and I’m here if she needs me. She nods, teary but grateful, and we pass the remainder of the evening playing family board games together in quiet camaraderie.

In reality, it’s more like:

My daughter is inexplicably struggling with something unexpected. I try to talk to her about it, but she only becomes more agitated. So I keep trying to talk to her because I’m sure if I just find the right words I can make it all better! And then she really gets mad, and I realize I’m being a dumbass. So I awkwardly tell her I’m confused by her reaction and she disappears upstairs for the rest of the night. I check on her, once, and when I flip the light switch in her dark room she shrieks, “IT BURNS!” and I turn the light back off. I text her four times to remind her of her nighttime meds before she comes downstairs to take them. The following morning I say, “So about last night—” and she immediately tenses and says she doesn’t want to discuss it. “All I want to say is that I know you can handle it and we’re here if you need us,” I blurt, as fast as I can, before she cuts me off again. She rolls her eyes and leaves the room.

Lest you think it’s a mother-daughter thing, there’s also fantasy vs. reality with my son. In my imagination, it was like:

My son is angry at me because I have pointed out that the career path he claims to be his goal may not be well-suited to some of his proclivities. I suggest he think some more about the entire lifestyle involved rather than simply the subject matter. I’m able to calmly point out that if this is what he really wants, I’m sure he will figure out the best way to make it happen. He hugs me and thanks me for my candor.

In reality, it’s more like:

My son is angry at me because I have pointed out that the career path he claims to be his goal may not be well-suited to some of his proclivities. I suggest he think some more about the entire lifestyle involved rather than simply the subject matter. He explodes, accuses me of ruining his only dream for himself, and I ask him if he thinks a better move would be for me to stay silent and wait for him to go through 4 or 8 years of higher education before discovering this may not be a good fit for him. He says I ruin everything; I sigh and tell him that yes, I am the devil himself, he’s found me out. I apologize, but it’s too late. He storms off. I feel like crap. I hug him at bedtime and tell him that nothing would make me happier than if I turned out to be completely wrong. The next day while helping him fill out some paperwork, I type his chosen career in there as his goal, and he looks at me, and I look at him, and I say, “Well, that’s what you want, right? Go for it.” He looks at me like I’ve lost my mind, and we move on to something else and don’t discuss it again.

Much like the rest of life, letting go is a lot prettier in the movies than when it happens in reality. It takes practice and it may always be awkward for me, but I’m getting there. Slowly. BEEEEEEEEEEEEP.

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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Comments

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  • Mom24_4evermom

    I had to smile a bit at you writing a post about how you’re backing off and you describe helping your son fill out some paperwork. 🙂

    • Um, he has dysgraphia and so I often type for him. This was something I had pre-filled-in by way of apology for our earlier interaction. 😉

  • K

    We aren’t anywhere close to this (leaving the nest and all that, and our kid is typically developing) but I am so relieved to see someone else struggled/es with parenting through fear. It seems we are so early in our journey with our son, and already we are realizing that the more we “interfere” the more frustrated he becomes. He really is quite capable, I know I/we need to back off. Great reminder of why we need to keep trying to let him lead from time to time – we really do want an empowered, confident kid.

  • MR

    ((hugs)) It is hard to let them fly the nest. One thing I read somewhere was that kids don’t ever need you to point out the potentials for heartbreak. Life will teach them on their own that they can’t do everything they think they can. It is the job of a parent to support them and comfort them, and point out suggestions of things to think about that they might not have considered. For example, with your son, when he said that was the job he wanted, you could respond, “Interesting. How are you planning to navigate *whatever aspect of the career you think might be troubling*?” That way, if he HAS thought about it, he can tell you. And if he hasn’t, you have now brought it up so he can think about it. If it is truly an issue, then he’ll realize that on his own and change his mind about his career, or be the first to come up with some innovative new thing/process to get around that. I recognize this is one of those things that is easier to say after the fact rather than do during, but it might be something to aim for. And in the meantime, a “Hey, I want to say I am sorry. I am working at this allowing you to grow and separate from me thing, and I don’t always get it right. I genuinely wasn’t trying to discourage you from finding your passion. I want to encourage you, and I recognize that the way I expressed my concerns did not come across that way. I will try to keep that in check.” will probably go a long way. I was the youngest of many kids, so my parents had lots of practice before they got to me, but I still remember my mom having a few conversations like the above where she admitted she got it wrong. That opened the room for further discussion and also showed me how to gracefully move past an error. No parent gets it right all the time. We all just do the best we can.

  • Jodie

    We’re many many years away from the leaving home thing, but letting go is something I’m actively working on for my oldest as she grows.  What are some of the practical ways you’re helping yourself do this?  I appreciate the candor (and humor) in this post (as it looks similar to me as I let up the reins on homework and social stuff), but any tips to make me suck less and feel better would be great 🙂

    By the way – have I told you lately how pretty your hair is.  You’re doing great and showing Monkey and Chickie you keep trying to learn is probably one of the best ways you can equip them.

  • Lucinda

    I’ve had several talks with both my kids in recent years that I’m trying to back off but it isn’t easy so be kind to me.  It isn’t uncommon for me to be talking to my kid about something when mid-paragraph (never mid-sentence), I stop and say “I’ve killed this horse, haven’t I?” or something to that effect.  I get a sigh, an eye roll, and an affirmative nod so we move on to something else.  I’m lucky I have very patient children. lol  I feel your pain.

  • Brigitte

    *sigh* I was hoping to win the lottery so my little pampered princess would never have to deal with true life.  

    Well, I guess we actually try to find a balance.  So hard!

  • Sonia

    I am a fairly successful middle aged girl, and by successful I mean I have a job (in what I majored in no less), a happy marriage, and more kids than I thought I’d have. BUT I can’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself, especially in my 30’s, I wish my mom would have pushed harder on that one/I wish my mom would have told me that one more time. It has changed the way I parent my girls, making sure I tell them things that took my too many years to figure out for myself. I love your post but please don’t back off too much no matter how much they protest! They will appreciate it in the long run.

  • df

    You are so amazing in your honesty Mir, I love posts like this very one. I have a 17-year old (fairly neurotypical) and a 12-year old (anything but!), and am facing the same issues with my older boy as we navigate this stage of life for the first time. It was wonderful reading this, thank you!!