My daughter turned 18 recently and the ensuing days have brought a series of small jolts to my maternal system.
Every day, it seems the mailbox brings another reminder that I am ceding my authority to this person who, at least in my head, still needs my life experience to shape hers. I’m pretty sure we don’t see that the same way.
The credit union sent a notice that she needs to sign paperwork to take sole authority of the small account we set up in her name a few years ago, unless she decides to grant me access. The health insurance company sent a similar notice reminding her that she doesn’t have to tell me anything she doesn’t want me to know about her personal health, prescriptions, etc., though I’m primary on the policy.
It’s a good thing, actually, this growing up and taking on more responsibility. But knowing that intellectually hasn’t kept me from feeling a bit like a DVD in a YouTube world — still working, but pretty sure I’m being phased out.
I know my influence will continue; it’s not that I think she is going to quit loving me or talking to me. But the high point of my influence on her life is definitely in the past and I’m grappling a bit with it. My job was to be teaching her the skills and truths she’d need for the different phases of her journey. I hope I didn’t forget anything major.
I’ve been doing a mental review of things I hope she knows — both the things I hope I’ve modeled for her and those I’ve explicitly told her.
I want her to know that although she’s been granted chronological adulthood by virtue of age, I don’t expect her to always behave like an adult. We put a lot of pressure on kids to act beyond their brain’s actual development. Scientists have discovered that a brain doesn’t start to look like the typical adult brain until age 20; it isn’t fully developed in key areas like the parts that control impulse and judgment until around age 25.
One of the teachers at my kids’ high school made that point recently as she was telling them not to take themselves too seriously and to forgive themselves if they make some mistakes as they move on in their lives. “Remember,” she said, “a couple of years ago you had to ask for permission to go to the bathroom.”
That also means she shouldn’t be afraid to refer friends in crisis — or herself — to someone who’s older and more experienced when it comes to really complicated things like depression or bad relationships or eating disorders. Kids tend to counsel each other about things that really are beyond their capability and they don’t recognize the fact.
I want her to know that if someone she’s dating puts others down or even speaks in a demeaning way to the waiter, she should stop the relationship before it gets started. Eventually, he’ll put her down or be unkind as well. And if she acts that way, her date should flee.
I want her to know that it’s okay to take her time when making life-altering decisions. “I want to think about it” is a sign of maturity, not indecisiveness.
She does not have to put up with put downs. I hope that knowledge is bone deep.
I also hope that my lovely soon-to-be-graduate knows that when she makes a mistake — and I’m still making them myself — I will do my very best to help her figure out how to correct it in a responsible way.
Mostly, I hope she knows that she is loved and admired by someone who will always try to have her back.
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