The Art of Letting Go

A decade ago, I wrote my first commentary for WBFO. It was about a shopping trip with my then four-year-old daughter. Today, that bubbly little girl is an adventurous teen. Her fashion sense has, if anything, become even more audacious over time. Her mother, too, is ten years older, hopefully a little wiser, and the girl, much more eager to explore the world on her own terms.

We’re no longer negotiating jagged sidewalks during a spontaneous bike ride to Delaware Park, and our differences of opinion have little to do with vegetables or toys. Now we negotiate curfews and sleepovers, the latest party or the next teen dance. Most of the time, our exchanges are civil. But when the stakes are especially high for both of us, the power struggle can be intense. It’s then I want to reach for photo albums filled with frozen images of earlier, easier times. Compared to discussing the dangers of substance abuse or the virtues of platonic friendship, changing a soiled diaper was nothing.

A friend reassures me. “Stop pining for the toddler she once was. Stand back and appreciate the young adult she’s becoming.”

And he’s absolutely right. The amount of energy, time and, let’s face it, ego that I’ve invested in raising my daughter should in no way limit her ability to keep walking forward on that long, uneven road to adulthood. This includes the freedom to make, and learn from, her own mistakes.

Yet every time she ventures out to another party, my insides get a little tight. Each time she breathlessly recounts how cute someone was at a dance, my mind flashes back to my own memories of adolescent romance. Whenever I drive somewhere to pick her up, I can’t help but think that in just a few short years, it won’t always be me behind the wheel anymore.

Today’s youth love to broadcast their most personal thoughts using the most public venues. In posting raw and silly comments for their BFFs on the Internet, they’re also sharing delicate secrets with an audience that’s much wider than they could ever visualize. And here I am, recording a very personal commentary that allows me to reach a large group of listeners, many of whom I will never meet.

To all the parents of teens out there, I’m with you. We know all too well the painful push-and-pull between yes and no. We rely on the sometimes vain hope that when the going gets really tough, we can simply say, “Because I said so”— and have that be the end of it.

I know that my daughter and I will survive these years. Despite the posturing, the pouting and the occasional shouting, the love remains. If anything, it’s grown stronger.

But for now, we each have a job to do. Hers, to challenge many of the boundaries I’ve set, if only to know how far she must still travel to reach the other side of childhood. And mine, to provide the invisible string that allows her to venture farther out on her own, while maintaining a consistent and safe connection.

I suppose in the end, I’ll get through it just like my own parents did: one worry and one joy at a time.

Recorded in June 2010 as a Listener Commentary for WBFO, an NPR affiliate

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