Parenting: A Journey Toward Separation

My eldest son got his license two weeks ago, ushering in a new (and slightly terrifying) age of independence. And yesterday, we met with his school counselor to discuss plans for college and the future. All of this has made me quite aware of how quickly the clock is racing toward his adulthood. (OK, that’s not an entirely new awareness as I realize my last blog, just a month ago, also acknowledged that my boys won’t be home with me forever.) It has also made me reflect afresh that parenting is in large measure a gradual process of separation.

This moving apart begins the day a baby is born, leaving the confines of Mama’s womb, and becoming his own little person in the world. From that moment, our job as parents at every stage of development–whether we realize it at the time or not–is all about helping that little person become more and more independent and preparing him to one day leave us.

For most of us, the transitions toward separation come quietly and routinely, and we may not even recognize fully what’s happened until we look back from the next stage of childhood or adolescence.

One day, he needs you to hold his tiny head steady against your chest. The next, he’s rolling over and sitting up all by himself.

One day, he relies entirely on you for nourishment. The next, he’s feeding himself Cheerios in his high chair.

One day, he is sitting on your lap on a park bench. The next, he is climbing the jungle gym while you watch from a few feet away.

One day, he needs you to dress him and put his shoes on. The next, he’s shouting, “No, I do it!”

One day, you’re driving him to preschool. The next, he is hopping on a bus or walking to school with a group of friends.

One day, you’re pulling him in a wagon. The next, he’s speeding down the street on his bike.

One day, he is working on homework at the kitchen table and asking you for help. The next, he’s studying in his room with the door shut, rolling his eyes at you if you interrupt his work.

One day, he’s picking you flowers from the yard. The next, he’s picking out a corsage for his date to the dance.

One day, he’s asking you for a ride, and you get to sneak in some one-on-one conversation on the way. The next, he’s borrowing the car and driving himself to wherever he needs to go.

One day, he’s sleeping in his room just like any other day. The next, you’re dropping him off at a big, new university, where he’ll set up a new room, make new friends, and cultivate a whole new life you’re not regularly part of.

We’re not quite to that last transition point. But it’s looming on the horizon, growing closer every day. And it’s scary.

Yet, he’s navigated all the other transitions just fine–all those baby steps toward independence (and the big ones, too). So I suspect he will do the same when the day comes for college. And I’ve survived all of the growing-up moments so far that tug at a mom’s heart, and sometimes break it just a little. So, I suspect I’ll make it through the transition to college, too, when it comes….and when he moves away for his first big job….and when he gets married. (Oy! But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves!)

In the meantime, my job is to continue doing what I can to help him, and my younger son, too, become their best selves. To equip them with practical skills, solid values, a compassionate heart, and a strong faith that they can take with them into this wide, wonderful world. And to make sure they know that no matter how far the distance, no matter how old they get, no matter how long our time apart, there is no degree of separation that Mom’s love can’t span.

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