Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cutting the Apron Strings: How's That Supposed to Work, Again?

When I'm willing to be truthful with myself, I have to admit that parenting older children is all about the relevance. My own relevance, that is.

It’s a sad fact of our existence (cue the Lion King “Circle of Life” music) that that as our children age, we become less relevant to them. When they’re little, their entire lives revolve around us, and ours around them as well; in the most real sense, after all, we’re trusted with keeping them alive.

But then something really underhanded transpires: Their grasp on us loosens and they begin inching away, and before long, they’re gone altogether. And we’re left wondering what in the world just happened.

My kids are -- could it be? -- almost 24 and almost 21 now. It’s safe to say that because they’ve constituted the area of my life into which I’ve most totally immersed myself, I’m a little unmoored these days. I’ve really, really enjoyed being their mother, and with a couple of notable hiccups, I think I’ve been pretty good at it. And I know that while my job will never been finished in a figurative sense, I also need to face the fact that each of them could get along just fine without me.

So, you see, as an intellectual individual, I understand how it works. So why is it that I keep grasping?

Let me say this right off the bat: I’m a busy person. I work full-time, and I also maintain what constitutes a full-time freelance-writing business on the side. Most nights, I’m covering events or writing stories. I have a husband whom I love and enjoy spending time with, and we have a high-maintenance dog. So it’s not as though I don’t have a life.

It’s just that the life I have is so different from the one I lived for so long. And I’m not sure what to do with myself if -- emotionally, anyway -- no one needs me anymore.

Here’s what Caroline would say right now: “Mom, stop being dramatic and feeling sorry for yourself.” Well, Caroline, I’m Italian and I’m right-brained, so to some degree, I’m guilty as charged. But I’m truly not trying to immerse myself in pity; I'm trying to determine how all this supposed to work. And I also wonder sometimes if I’m the only person who feels this way.

Some of my friends love having an empty nest. They’re living like college kids, albeit ones with more money. I’m sort of jealous, as I just can’t get into that groove.

The reasons might be as simple as accepting my heritage. It’s stereotypical and demeaning to assume that all Italian mothers emotionally smother their kids … right? If not, I’ll just go with that. (Visit YouTube and watch a few scenes from the movie Moonstruck. That’s my family.) In all seriousness, though, I come from a long line of matriarchal women who like to make sure everyone is well-fed and happy. I’m not much of a cook, but I have the nurturing thing down pat.

I realize that sometime soon, I’ll need to begin making changes. I anticipate both my kids will marry eventually, and I don’t want to scare their spouses; I also don’t want to be an overbearing grandmother who insists on offering unwanted advice. I want to remain close to my kids, but I want them to be able to count on my knowing my boundaries.

I also want to continue to be relevant to them, though. I don’t want to be the old lady who doesn’t matter. I want -- as we all desire in the important areas of our lives, I think - to continue to add value.

In all other areas of life, Mother Nature seems to have it right. As we age, hormones change and help us shift our focus from making babies to raising them; we focus less on the laws of attraction and more on creating stable, sturdy, reliable environments for our kids. That’s not to say that we stop being individuals, but we stop being entirely self-focused and self-centered ones. Why, then, can’t the same fluctuations allow us to love our children not quite so fiercely?

I suppose, to some degree, this will all take care of itself, and it might all be OK; after all, I’m trying to keep a respectful distance from Scott’s decisions about where his life will take him next, and, on an albeit smaller scale,I wasn’t even taken aback when Caroline said she didn’t a ride to the airport because her boyfriend was taking her.

I'm trying to do better. But I'll also promise you this: Wherever my kids go next, and no matter how respectful a distance I’m able to keep, it won’t stop me from fretting over whether they make sure to eat a good meal before they get started.

Hey -- it's all about the baby steps.

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