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Don’t let your kids grow up to be babies

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I figured something out this year about my parenting style:  I am really really good at being the mom of infants and toddlers and even preschoolers, but somehow that style does not translate well into being the mom of older kids.  The elementary years.  The tween thing.  The [shudder] teen thing.  I am really good at nurturing and creating a supportive and safe environment, but I suck at letting go.

Is this you?

I suspect I am not the only one here.  This stuff is haaaarrd.

I had an IM conversation with my 12-year-old today, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that he is going to be thirteen soon. A teenager.  OMG.  And I am still treating him like a little kid.

Oh, I’ve been letting go.  I bought him a laptop for Christmas so he could have computer access when he’s at his dad’s house and now we don’t see him for days at a time.  I let him choose his bedtime; he knows the consequences of staying up too late and he polices himself pretty well.  I let him and his 8-year-old sister choose when to clean their rooms (with mixed results, but passable).

But there’s still this mindset within me:  he needs me. He asks me for the antonym to “prominent” and I immediate start Googling before I think to ask if this is his homework.  Oh, I know he needs me and always will, but I guess my point is that his needs are changing.  And I am not keeping up.

So it’s times like this that I envy the parents who practice benign neglect.  Keeping hands off a bit creates kids who are stronger and more resilient, who can make decisions and who have confidence.  There’s a fine line, though, between support and suffocation.  Between giving space and acting like you don’t care.  And the line is always moving.  Did I mention that this parenting thing is haaaarrd?

Do you think about this stuff?  Talk to me here; tell us about a time when you noticed the line in your house was moving, and what you did about it.

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4 comments so far...

  • My oldest is six and gives glimpses of being OLDER all of a sudden. And more independent. Though I remember longing for this day, I am nowhere near ready for it…

    Angella  |  September 24th, 2008 at 3:53 pm

  • Benign neglect. I like that term. Even at age 2, I actively avoid doing things for my daughter that I know she can do for herself. She recently started sleeping in her own bed after two years of cosleeping. It breaks my heart every time she accomplishes something on her own that she used to need me to help her with. But I know it’s part of growing up, and I wouldn’t be doing her any favors by keeping her dependent on me. I want her to be strong, indpendent, and self-sufficient. Just not too quickly.

    Robyn  |  September 25th, 2008 at 10:27 am

  • Your comments came at an absolutely critical time. My thirteen year old son has gotten into the habit of sarcastically commenting on our uncomfortable financial situation. We’ve both worked, but it’s just not enough in Marin. We rent and live paycheck to paycheck. My sensitive husband takes it all like a wound to the heart. We’re seriously talking about taking our kids away from our families to get away from the materialism. Though, when we mention this, of course the teen doesn’t want it. Boy parenting can be so painful. Will benign neglect work for me? Any advice?

    Megan W.  |  September 26th, 2008 at 12:24 am

  • Angella: I don’t think we’re ever really ready. We just do the best we can.

    Robyn: It’s a dance, isn’t it? The thing is to not get too caught up in the identity of feeling needed. That was my mistake, or one of them. When things change and they grow up it can be hard to let go of it.

    Megan: My heart goes out to you! At 13 he’s old enough to know the financial situation AND the hurt he causes with his comments. Sounds like he’s feeling fears and uncertainties, and covering them over with that sarcastic bravado. It’s painful and scary realizing that your parents aren’t really gods, that they’re fallible and that life has uncertainties. Certainly being in an atmosphere where there’s less focus on materialism can help, but I think this may be more about you son processing his feelings about the past vs the future. I hope things get easier for you!

    Karen Murphy  |  September 26th, 2008 at 12:57 am