This past Saturday evening, my husband and I had plans to go out. Our kids are at an age where we can leave them on their own for a few hours, without worry. In fact, we even left them overnight on their own in early December when we attended a function in Toronto, that came with an inexpensive hotel room. It’s heady times, my friends. When you get started on this parenting road, it sometimes feels like you’ll never be able to break free ever again. Which is fine. I mean it’s what we signed on for, but it can be restricting. Becoming free from the calling in favours of friends and grandparents to “babysit” (the boys hated that word when they were old enough to be considered “kids”) comes in stages – leave the kids for a few minutes while you run to the store. Let them come home from school and stay on their own until you get home from work. Finally, the ability to go out for an evening, or even an overnight stay was possible. As I said, heady times. We don’t do it too often, but Saturday night was one of those times we wanted to, and so we told the boys our plan.
Our oldest, who just turned 17 had a question: Can I go over to Jamie’s? We’re just going to hang out there.
I answered: No. I’d like you to be home with your brother while we’re out.
Him: But, why? I’m just like down the street.
Me: I said no, you need to be home.
Him: *frustrated sigh* FINE.
So let’s take a look at this conversation. Of which, it must be said, I am not particularly proud.
Not proud of it because I never wanted to be a “Because I Said So” parent. And yet? There it is, staring me right in the face. “You need to be home” is essentially “because I said so”, just with slightly different phrasing, yes? It absolutely is.
So I went off to do whatever it was I was doing before this conversation started, and I started thinking that I should probably go back in there and talk to him and explain why he couldn’t go out that night. And to be perfectly honest? I couldn’t think of one damn reason.
Oh sure, your 14-year old brother will be on his own. But he’s been on his own for a couple of hours before, no big deal. And we were only going to be gone about 3 hours total. And I know the kid he was going to hang out with, I know their family really well. I know where he’ll be, who he’ll be with…
So what is my problem?
It turns out that my problem is that I have a 17-year old son who is pretty social. Who likes to be around his friends, who likes to be out of the house having fun with his friends. Who feels (possibly) restricted by his inability to just go out when he feels like it. Who will be leaving to go away to postsecondary school at the end of this summer, where I will have precisely zero control over where he is, who he is with and what he is doing while he’s gone.
And that? Is my problem, not his.
And the really obnoxious thing about this is that I was that EXACT SAME KID. I didn’t want to be home when I was 17. I wanted to be with my friends as much as possible. Sleepovers, trips downtown, movies, just hanging at the mall… I vaguely remember sarcastic comment-laced conversations with my mum about whether or not I still lived there, did I think this was a bed & breakfast kind of place, oh gosh who are you again? Ha ha ha, right?
But it’s true. I didn’t want to be home much, and yet I loved my parents deeply. I had a great home life, I was loved, respected and happy. But 17, man. You just want to fly. It’s cliché, but you just do.
And if I think back to my parents, and what they did when I was 17…they let me. They let me go, knowing full well that I’d be back. And I always came back, I never went far, and I never went for very long.
It’s a tough thing, this letting go. I’m not good at it. And I am the first to admit that I am not good at it. But the good thing about me (yay, me) is that once I realize that the problem is mine, I am pretty good at making it go away. Which is what I did for my son.
When I decided that I was being a jerk and kind of obtuse about this whole thing, I went back to talk to him. I told him I had changed my mind, and that he could go with his friends, as long as his brother was ok with being on his own for a few hours (he was). I told him that he had to be home by a certain time. He asked if he could stay over at his friend’s house, and we negotiated but I finally said no. Because this time I had a reason. He’d been at two different sleepovers in 3 nights, and school was starting up again Monday, so it’s better, I said, if you come home and sleep in your own bed. He agreed. And that was that.
I apologized for my knee-jerk reaction, and explained that I need to work on that. His response was to give me a huge hug, thank me, and tell me that I am cool and awesome. And then I cried a little bit.
Later, he went out. We went out. The 14-year old stayed in, watching TV. Three hours later, we came home, the 14-year old was still watching TV. The 17-year old came home an hour after we did. We all went to bed.
He won’t be with me forever, I know that. I want him to be, but he won’t. He can’t. It’s the natural order of things. It was when it was me, gaining my independence from my parents. It is for him too, and for our 14-year old, who is currently a homebody, but in no time will also be requesting nights out with friends, and weekends away with friends.
I really don’t want to go all “If you love something set it free…” on you here, but it’s kind of true, I have to admit. The more I try to hold them tightly, the more they are going to want me to let go. If I can gently release, just a little at a time, I’m more likely to have them want to be back with me sometimes. It’s some Parenting 101 shit, this. It’s inevitable. And it’s really what you want for your kids too. To have the confidence to go out into the big world without you, and to be successful. It’s awesome and terrifying. It’s terrifyingly awesome. And that, friends, is probably the best description of parenting I can give you.
If you love something set it free, if it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, keep texting it for an hour, then call and leave voicemail after voicemail, then finally drive over to his girlfriend’s house and knock on the door until someone answers so you can make sure he has his jacket and warm mitts.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I’m TRYING, ok???