Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash
My daughter was born in February 1998 which made her 18 last month. Frequently I ask myself “where did the time go?” I sat having a coffee this morning watching a little girl with her mother and wanted to reach out to the mum and say ‘make the most of it’ somehow because it all goes so quickly. Gina is now reviewing her decision to go to University and will shortly decide which place she’d most enjoy being at. To her it’s so much more than what she wants to study although the subject does matter – it’s also what she’d do socially, what they offer as support, how much pressure she will be under, and what help they offer to enable you to find a job. “How did we get here” I ask myself? Maybe life is more complicated for her than it was for me. Back then when I was completing my ‘A’ levels it was just about learning, which subject, and where did I want to go. The rest you just hoped would work out!
I’ve asked Gina and her friend Charlotte to write a blog of their own from their perspective and I’ll load that next week. This is so that I/we can be helped to understand what life is like for them now. Maybe that way we as parents can appreciate what teenage girls feel and how they struggle to juggle things. But when I was 18 and it was my birthday I remember how simple things felt; how I joined my Mum for the day and we went for cream tea in London. She and I enjoyed every minute of it yet I’m sure she must have felt the loss of me as I am feeling the impending loss of Gina now. I remember Mum once saying ‘your children will never love you as much as you love them’ which I found sad at the time. I can remember thinking ‘that won’t happen to me’ as if the way you did things as a parent influences how much love you are given in return but actually she’s right. It’s not that love can be measured in volume at this stage, but time. Gina simply needs to stretch her wings and fly now, not be near me and held. Being held even in an affectionate hug is fleeting at the moment – it’s almost as if her very being strains to be away. I may want to hold her but she needs to be free as I wanted to be – needed to be, really.
Some of the other things I remember are helping me too. When I was 21 I went on holiday to Florida and joined a friend there. I rang home 10 days later and was met with the voice of my brother who sounded very angry down the phone and a distraught mother, but it wasn’t that I meant to inflict pain, I simply didn’t think! Life wasn’t about what my mum was feeling then, only about what I was feeling and I wanted to experience the world. You can’t really experience something for another person although I realise I hurt her but once you’ve pulled away and started to know what else there is in life isn’t it pretty understandable that you want to feel even more?
So why when I know all of this do I find myself sitting at times feeling utterly lost and grief stricken that my daughter now feels such a powerful pull to be away. Again my mum comes to the rescue – the natural circle of life she calls it; ‘normal’ was another word she used and ‘how it’s meant to be’ – is it? But it doesn’t feel normal, it feels personal!
When I try to examine why it hurts I realise I’m making it about me. My son is 16 soon and still at home, so he’s watching this and learning about both my feelings and his sister’s. He is learning how to pull away and yet avoid inflicting pain, but it’s not his fault he’ll need to do this too, and it’s not her job to handle me, it’s mine. I want what’s best for her and I want her to be happy. Right now she’s doing well at school (sixth form), and will do her best in her exams I’m sure. She passed her driving test last year and runs around in her little car happily having fun but she doesn’t always look happy. I guess the pressures of pleasing her teachers, her friends, her boyfriend and herself are enough for her without the added pressure of pleasing me too.
The issue here is not what she is and isn’t doing, although I make it about that, but it’s about the underlying drive. Right now her drive is the future not the present or even the past particularly. Just because she’s driving her life forward doesn’t mean she’s rejecting her past or me. But in the heat of another moment of thoughtlessness from her it feels like it! I am forgetting what another friend said ‘your children are not yours but are on loan’ she said. ‘It’s not your job to tell them what you want, only to secure their ability to find what they want for themselves. That way when they come and go you can get on with your life because your job is not to demand or drive their life but to support and teach’. In football terms I guess she means that we are their coach not their Manager. We guide, not own
So; do I have some wise friends and family and I need to listen, or am I writing this in order to make sense of it for myself – a bit of both I think. I need reminding of what my role is in this, and I need to be ok to get on with my own life right now, for the time is coming soon when they will both fly. My problem is going to be accepting they were always meant to do this and more importantly, that nothing will replace Home for them no matter where they go, which coincidentally, is where I will be!