'But Im Almost 18!'
By T. Suzanne Eller
phrase echoed around my house, surfacing at inopportune moments. My daughter
put her hand on her hip and lifted one eyebrow like only she could do
and said, "Mom, Im almost 18!" Just when I was trying
to do my parental duty by saving her from floods, bad guys, and every
other evil that lurks out there, she stated the obvious.
Like I didnt know how old she was. I was there when she emerged
into this world, blue-eyed and beautiful. I still remember how she felt
in my arms. . . Excuse me for a minute while I go get a tissue.
When Leslie turned 18, we were in brand-new territory but somebody forgot
to give us the map. Was I to treat her like a friend? A child? A woman?
How could I know when she vacillated from one to the other in a space
of five minutes. It was like living with Sybil.
Or maybe it was I. She made perfect sense when she told me how responsible
she was and how it was time to give her more freedom. But how much is
too much? What if she made a mistake? How come she couldnt keep
her room clean if she was an adult?
I watched other mothers with their adult children, hoping to gain insight.
Honestly it only served to confuse me. Some parents took off all the boundaries
and let their teens run like wild colts. Others smothered them, treating
them like a small child when they were old enough to have their own. There
had to be an in-between. The only thing I knew for sure was that I didnt
have all the answers.
When Leslie was just a toddler, she talked early and nonstop. When we
traveled, she perched in her car seat and asked a plethora of questions,
her tiny voice resounding like a parrot from her car seat. "Why is
the sky that color?" "Why does that make that loud sound?"
And after two hours, "Why are you making that face, Mommy?"
I loved answering her questions, but when she turned 18, I realized I
didnt have a clue about how to let go of my adult child. Sometimes
I set boundaries because I had 22 years on her and I could see beyond
the obvious. Other times I said no because it was easier. I didnt
get away with that one much. As she matured, I realized it was time to
say yes a whole lot more. If Leslie was going to enter the adult world,
I had to be willing to let her make some mistakeswithin reason.
How do you let go of your adult child? The truth is that a parent releases
their child long before the moment they leave for college or move out
on their own, but it happens a little at a time.
One of my best friends is a horse trainer. Ive watched her take
an unbroken horse into the ring. She grips the rope in her hand and forces
the horse to walk instead of race wildly. As the horse learns to pace
himself, she lets out a little bit of rope at a time until it lies in
her open palm. She only tightens the rope if the horse threatens to break
loose or does something that will cause her or the horse harm. She uses
voice commands as the rope lies loose in her hand. Eventually she lets
the rope go. The horse has learned to obey and there is mutual trust between
the horse and its owner.
My friend is highly sought as a trainer because so many owners prepare
their horses the wrong way. Some try to break the horses with a whip,
but end up with a rebellious, dangerous horse or a skittish horse with
a broken spirit. Others pamper their horses, allowing them to develop
annoying and lazy habits. Neither is able to function within the ring.
"They have to know that youre the boss, but its more
about relationship," my friend says. "When Im through,
that horse and I will have mutual respect."
When Leslie was young, I had to keep the rope tight. "Dont
cross the street without looking." "Eat your veggies, baby."
I prayed with her, laughed with her, scolded her and molded her, and then
as she aged, it was time for her to make some decisions on her own. Ill
never forget the first time she climbed in a car with a group of friends
or the day she drove to school in her tiny Tercel. I knew that there were
risks, but these were also opportunities for her to grow. As she learned
to pace herself and made good decisions, she received more freedom.
The year of her 18th birthday, the rope lay loosely in the
palm of my hand. We had made mistakes, but we had tried our best to instill
strength and maturity and confidence in our daughter. As she filled out
college applications, I knew that she could live without the security
of her family, yet somehow it was hard for me to let go completely. "But
Im almost 18," became painfully clear to me. Leslie was asking
me to lay down the rope.
Today shes 21 and a junior in college. Every time she comes to
"visit", my breath is taken away when the mature young woman
who was once my blue-eyed baby girl walks through the door. Shes
responsible and focused on her faith and her future, yet she still leaves
the towels on the bathroom floor. When I remind her to hang them up, she
puts her hand on her hip and lifts one eyebrow like only she can do. "Mom,
Im 21 years old," she said.
I know, Leslie. Really I do.
T. Suzanne Eller is an International speaker to teens and
parents of teens, veteran youth worker and youth columnist. Her new book,
Real Teens – What Every Parent Needs to Know is an open dialogue
between teens and parents. You can reach Suzanne at http://daretobelieve.org
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