Last week my eldest child, now 31, had a biiiiig job interview. She was flown across the country to a city she’d never laid eyes on, for an in-person visit. Arrangements were made by the employer. She planned out her wardrobe, printed extra copies of her resume and itinerary, arranged boarding for her dogs and arranged to visit a friend for a couple of extra days. Things moved pretty quickly from that first phone interview, so the stress level for her was high.
The big day came and, like clockwork, the texting starting first thing in the morning. “My flight is delayed and I’m worried I won’t make my connection.” “The flight is cancelled, what do I do?????” Of course, phone calls accompanied all of this. I got a play by play of every move she made that day. The only time I didn’t hear from her was when she was actually flying in the air. And when she finally landed at her destination, the panicky, hysterical call that she’d forgotten the slacks she’d planned to wear and only had her jeans. By the time she finally got to her hotel I was in bed, trying to relax for the night. In confess I was a total mess. My allergies were flaring up, I had a throbbing headache and I was exhausted.
I didn’t realize until the next day how I’d been sucked in to her drama. I realized, I could have set better boundaries for myself, if only I’d seen what was happening. I also felt compassion for her because this was a new experience for her and she needed someone comforting to unload on. And of course, I was excited for her, too.
After her interview, we spoke briefly and then she headed off to spend the day with a friend. But the next day she was alone exploring the city and once again, I had a constant stream of texts and pictures. Then the day she left to travel home, it was the same thing. This is not a new experience for me with this child. I have come to realize that even at her age, right now I am her person upon whom she depends for reassurance and to share her life experiences. It’s always been this way for her. And part of me enjoys that she wants me involved in her life. She has a really great life and I’m so proud of her. But I also sometimes feel the need to disengage a bit.
So, the question I ask myself is, how do I remain a support system for my kids while also maintaining my newfound and hard-fought freedom from daily parenting? Well, each of my children is very different and each has different needs from me. One has always been very self-contained and put together. One is somewhere in the middle between keeping me at arm’s length and over involving me in the drama of life. And their needs ebb and flow as it does for all of us. For me the challenge is to determine when I should jump in and get involved and when to pull back a bit. I also need to be more aware of my own need to know what goes on in their lives. Right now, I like to be on a “need to know,” basis with them. In other words, I want to know what they need me to know. I want to not agonize too hard, to not lose too much sleep, to not over parent.
As I write this, I have on my desk a photo of my children from a photo shoot we did years ago. They were maybe three months, four and seven. They’re all dressed up, posed with huge smiles (well, except for the infant), arms around each other, just gorgeous! That’s how I usually think of them. They will always be my babies. But now they are grown and glorious. They are amazing, successful people. I need to replace that baby picture in my heart with a more current one, a picture of three people who are my children but who are also themselves. Linked together but separate. Oh, and I need to learn to screen my calls.