In the month of June, we celebrate Father’s Day, which provides me another opportunity to reflect on my own role as a parent. Of all my roles—daughter, sister, wife, friend, professor—the most profound for me has been parenthood. It has been my greatest gift, and equally significant responsibility, yet unlike other roles, there are both agonizing and poignant milestones that signal both bittersweet endings and beginnings. We are forced to evolve with our growing children whether we want to or not.
Kindergarten was a tremendous seismic shift for me. Bringing each of my little ones to their first days of school was both devastating and awe-inspiring. An enormous alarm sounded within my heart, reminding me that, as they began their formal education, they also now belonged to a school system outside of our house with rules and regulations. As the weeks and months progressed, they naturally expanded their worlds in search of additional connections and camaraderie. Their worlds expanded exponentially while mine was slowly diminishing.
At Some Point, You'll Watch Them Drive Away
While there was a huge leap from five to sixteen, with numerous expected and hoped-for milestone detachments along the way, nothing was more overwhelming, frightening, and distressing than watching my sons, each with their newly-minted driver’s licenses, literally drive away.
While I believed that they needed decades more experience to mature, they were legally sanctioned drivers according to the state. This ended much of their dependence on me as their chauffeur, giving them more responsibility and personal growth—all essential for them, but turning me into a proverbial puddle.
Then, there were my sons’ friends: those with positive influences, as well as those whose influences required me to intervene. Again, a growth experience for us all.
Their evolving autonomy over the years, not-so-gently pushed me ahead to accept my new role in my position of “sideline parenting” rather than the physical day-to-day caretaking. I became a backstage mom, indirectly directing, always there, but not quite in the spotlight, further giving them the independence they needed and deserved. But, oh how difficult it was to let go!
Waiting For Them To Take The First Step, Again
Sending each of them off to college, away from home for the first time, was almost an out-of-body experience. Suddenly overnight, it seemed, this little being was now able to fend for himself in the world. I learned to wait for my son’s phone calls rather than call him, so that I knew he wanted to talk rather than suffer his imagined response of raised eyebrows and a grimace when he saw my phone number as his incoming call.
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I learned to detach from his day-to-day activities, accepting the minimal knowledge that he was healthy and studying.
As I got farther along in my motherhood journey, I became okay with less information. I learned to ask fewer questions, even though I so wanted to know the answers. While I tried to advise and recommend when asked, I could always cajole and comfort.
Unconditional Love Is Never A Mistake
I don’t have regrets, but I would like an occasional do-over, which we don’t get, so I have to be happy with what is. While I made mistakes, I loved my sons unconditionally, which is worth so much.
My husband, who is a psychiatrist, once told me that no one was ever in his office because they were loved too much. This puts everything in perspective as I continue to mother imperfectly. I can say that while I made mistakes, I loved my sons and will continue to love them until the day I die.
When I was in the thick of mothering, with three little boys 5 ½ and under, I remember often counting the hours until bedtime, even when it was 6:00 a.m. I also remember being told that this stage would pass by so quickly. I smiled, but I was secretly thinking, “Not fast enough.”
That person was right, of course. I have been a mother for 37 years with seemingly two motherhood lives: the one when my sons were little boys, attached to my very essence; and, today, watching them from afar as they navigate their own journeys.
Today, I see my own child with his children and I know that he is experiencing the most significant and incredible role of his life, which he will soon find out will go way too quickly.
This Sunday, when we will celebrate my son’s fatherhood, I will joyfully remind myself that I did my best in helping him arrive at such a celebration—to be able to give and receive unconditional love from the two beautiful little beings in front of him—his son and his daughter.
Book by this Author
When Will I Be Good Enough?: A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing
by Barbara Jaffe Ed.D.
Barbara was born to fill the vacancy left by her little brother, who died at the age of two. This book tells the multitude of readers who have been “replacement children” for many reasons, that they, too, can find hope and healing, as did Barbara.
About the Author
Barbara Jaffe, Ed.D. is an award-winning English professor at El Camino College, California and is a Fellow in UCLA’s Department of Education. She has offered countless workshops to students to help them find their writers’ voices through writing non-fiction. Her college has honored her by naming her Outstanding Woman of the Year and Distinguished Teacher of the Year. Visit her website at BarbaraAnnJaffe.com