If you’re the parent of a graduating senior, this is probably a bittersweet time for you, and you may be wondering how this person you’ve raised, who is now officially an adult, is going to make it “out there” when he or she is still a child in so many ways. I mean, what are they thinking with some of the stuff they post online, #amiright? Then again, what were we thinking with some of the choices we made at their age . . . and how can we stop them from doing the same?! Here’s the thing: we can’t. And no one knows the struggle of giving up parental control more than I do, friend.
I met my daughter when she was five years old. I was dating her father, and her biological mother wasn’t in the picture. Just a kid myself, at 20, I naively thought that all of the complexities that usually go along with blended families wouldn’t apply to us since there wasn’t an “ex” to contend with. I didn’t take into account that children often suffer from attachment disorder if they don’t properly bond with their mothers before the age of two, which makes it incredibly challenging to establish relationships with anyone, let alone a step-parent.
After her father and I were married, we thought maybe her fears would be put to rest if I legally adopted her, so I did just that. I was tested relentlessly, however, and nothing I did seemed to be right (to my daughter, to her father, or to anyone else with an opinion . . . and there were lots of them). Thorough research on the topic and years of counseling taught me that kids with attachment issues ultimately need one thing from you, and that’s for you to never give up on them. While my relationship with her father has long since dissolved, I have continued to be this girl’s mother, even when it hasn’t been easy.
When I left my ex-husband, I decided that the best thing for our daughter was for her to continue to live with him and to have regular visitation with me. While I disapproved of the way she was being raised, I also knew that she needed consistency and that uprooting her from the one person she had always been with would likely cause more problems. (She wasn’t in a dangerous or abusive situation, so I had to remind myself of the healthiest living arrangement for everyone involved. With me in the mix daily, there was a lot of fighting, admittedly.)
Reader, the constant internal struggle of this decision was real! I tortured myself asking, what kind of mother doesn’t take custody of her own child? I may technically be her step-mother, but legally I made that child my own, and I am my harshest critic. Imagine watching your daughter venture into her teen years from a distance, and not being able to regulate a single thing she does. You have no say, no ability to provide consequences when she breaks the rules, and your best hope for influencing her lies in pep talks and leading by example. I’m not her aunt, her godmother, or her friend. I’m her mother, the single biggest influencer in a human being’s life, in my humble opinion. If I haven’t liked something along the way, shouldn’t I have taken control? The short answer is no. What “control” does any mother really have over a teenager anyway?
Sure, had she been with me all this time she would have been involved with a church, been volunteering right alongside me, had a driver’s license and a job by now, as these are all things we value in my home. Perhaps, you’ve done all of the “right” things with your own teen, but is there value in forcing kids into these character-building activities? I don’t mean to be a hover-parent, but often my answer is yes! (Though at one point, I realized calling her school all the time wasn’t actually helping.) In my case, had my daughter been under my roof, there also would have been a lot of tension and drama. In the nature versus nurture game, I can’t contend with her genetics. Her biological parents are very different from me, so it’s hard for me to relate to why my daughter might make the choices she does.
Despite my best efforts as the non-custodial parent, my teenage daughter does what she wants, and maybe yours does, too, even if you have custody. As she turns 18 and graduates high school, I have to let go. I have to let go of what I should or shouldn’t have done. I have to become OK with letting her go off into the world and fail a few times. I have to remind myself that I can’t control what happens from this point on and that maybe I never had control to begin with.
I also have to remember all of the hope and excitement I had for her when I walked her into her first day of Kindergarten. (I suddenly have something in my eye . . .) Commencement means beginning, after all.