Years ago, in what seems another life, I used to work with adolescents. During that time, when I had no significant parenting experience, I considered myself a champion of youth. I thought young people should have seats on boards of directors for nonprofit organizations and that adults needed to really listen to what they had to say.
I like to believe that still hold those values. I also know that I’m not the champion I once was – and that’s not because the focus of my job is no longer youth.
It’s because I live with two teenagers.
Since my children are quick to point out how I, a professional woman with a Master’s Degree, am generally clueless about anything of importance, one might assume I am in awe of how much they know in comparison.
I’m not. At the same time, I know I don’t often give them the credit they deserve.
When my son mumbles at me under his breath, I often forget about his ability to make a whole room laugh with a facial expression or wry comment.
When my daughter snaps at me for asking her a question, I tend to ignore the fact that she’s often lost in a book or absorbed in learning.
And when I get anxious about the mistakes I make as a mom, I definitely don’t give my kids enough credit for setting me straight.
Thankfully, they do it anyway.
Last Sunday night after a very busy weekend, I found myself already ramping up for an even busier work week. In other words, I was starting to stress myself out. And when I stress myself out, I tend to stress out everyone around me out as well. Or, in the eyes of my children, I can be incessant and annoying.
So it was for my daughter, for whom I made several suggestions about things she should be doing. Nothing I said was necessary or even important. In reality, I was putting some of my own issues onto her shoulders, and she knew it.
“Mom,” she said. “I’m the one living my life. Let me do that.”
She was right.
There are times when parents have to interfere in their children’s lives, but that wasn’t such an occasion.
She wasn’t making a decision that affected her health or her future success. She had a perspective that I didn’t, which is exactly the reason I used to be such an advocate for young people.
They might not always be right, but adults aren’t always right either. Adults might have more experience, but sometimes that experience keeps us bogged down in all the reasons something won’t work instead of getting excited about testing the possibilities.
Most importantly, the potential of our young people is only limited by the opportunities adults provide them to grow and learn.
And those opportunities often mean that we moms have to let go of our strong desire to steer the direction our children take in life. Instead, we have to trust that even though our kids may not always know where they want to go, the responsibility of finding their path lies on their, not our, shoulders.
My kids have taught me that being a good mom sometimes means I need to stop providing advice and instead need to listen to them. When I do that, I can hear them say they need a mom who allows them to fall, make mistakes, struggle and discover that sometimes the best path in life is the one that isn’t mapped out years in advance but is one that is blazed by experiences.
My daughter may only be 13, but I have no doubt that’s exactly what she meant when she told me that she, not me, is the one living her life.
Hopefully, I can follow those words of wisdom.