My kids are going to college. We knew that. It’s the natural order of things. Or at least the hoped-for order of things. They could be pursuing careers as baristas, but most of us hope for more for our children.
Our sons made their final college decisions this past weekend. Shit is starting to get real. I need to get up close and personal with fact that my babies are grown-up and the child-rearing phase of my life is over. Which means, of course, that my husband and I, as parents, must step back and let them live their own lives, make their own decisions and confront their actions’ consequences without us to mediate or mitigate. How the fuck did this happen and how can I possibly do the requisite separating without losing my sanity? I’m nauseated by pure, unadulterated terror.
First, I’ll breathe into a paper bag while reading my beloved fantasy novels for the strength and wisdom to do what needs to be done. Thankfully, I’ve found a new author—sort of, as Shelly Laurenston is the alter ego of G. A. Aiken who writes the Dragon Kin series—who can talk me off the ledge. Her ebook bundle delivered 20 hours of reading pleasure and Shelly is quite prolific so there is lots more material to soothe my battered psyche and learn life lessons through fantasy fiction. What could be better?
Well, it might be better if I couldn’t relate so well to the main character in “Brendon’s Tail,” a novella, wherein Brendon struggles against letting his baby brother escape the nest. Or the pride, in this case, as Brendon and his brother, Mitch, are lion shapeshifters. Here, kitty, kitty. Brendan is worried about his baby brother, wanting to protect Mitch from himself and others. But Brendon’s mate points out that Mitch is an adult and must make his own decision while those who love him stand back and hope—or pray—for the best.
Whose idea was this independence thing anyway? What’s wrong with listening to my mommy sense and protectively suffocating my boys with love? Well… a lot. I must not heed the siren song of maternal instinct unless I want to snuff out their drive to succeed along with their urge to individuate. Or unless I want to emasculate them before they’ve had a chance to produce grandbabies for me. Where’s the justice?
The gold ring in parenting comes with a sucker punch. The award for outstanding achievement in parenting goes to those who parent their kids right out the door. You know, out into the cold, cruel world where they might get hurt, or exploited, or, God forbid, fail. And while my fear for their failure is almost paralyzing, it’s also misplaced.
I’m sure I’ve talked about the—possibly apocryphal—Steve Jobs requirement that anyone who wanted to work with or for him needed to have experienced a professional reversal from which they bounced back. It’s an interesting approach. Jobs felt that only failure could appropriately temper an ambitious person’s mettle. Presumably, Steve believed that only failure could obviate the fear of failure and demonstrate that while it was not pleasant, and therefore to be avoided, it was rarely catastrophic, and therefore it should not be avoided at all costs. Success often rises from the trough of failure. It’s a harsh reality—just like the one I’m pushing my children toward—but it’s the truth. I hate that.
When we lean forward, or in, or whatever, we risk taking it on the chin occasionally. And that has to be okay. And while I’m fine with absorbing the occasional blow to my own face, my inner mama bear hates it when it’s my kids who take one for the team. Or for themselves.
But I have to let them go. I have to let them fall. And fail. I must encourage them to go—to leave the only home they’ve ever known and leap into the harsh reality of life where not everyone will like them, and few will care whether they had a personal problem that prevented them from doing their homework. They will have to navigate and negotiate and while they can phone a friend, perhaps, most of the time they will hang off that limb all by themselves. They’ll struggle solo to claw their way back onto the ledge. And yes, I know I mixed my metaphors. But it’s a harsh world – one that requires many a metaphor.
Like Brendon in Shelly Laurenston’s story, I need to step back and let the next generation step forward. I must let them do their thing, their way. They are adults. They get to make their own choices – and live with the consequences of those choices. God help us all. Or not. Hopefully, we’ve done our parenting job well, and the kids are all right.