Why You Need to Let Your Teenager Go

Why You Need to Let Your Teenager Go

My daughter’s middle school recently held a parent meeting for students interested in its biennial trip to Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas. This excited me and also terrified me for a couple of reasons. It doesn’t seem possible that I have a child old enough to go on the same trip I went on, but then again, it doesn’t seem likely that it’s been 25 years since I went on that trip.

The adventure consists of several days on the east coast touring monuments and museums in D.C., Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It is held every other year for students who have completed eighth grade, and it is a phenomenal learning experience.

The teacher who hosted the meeting has been the primary sponsor of this expedition since the school began to offer it in the early 1990s. When I saw her at the meeting, she looked exactly the same as she did when I had her as my eighth-grade teacher. I wasn’t sure what to think about that—does she have a great skincare regimen, or was she that young 25 years ago?

As she went over the trip’s details and plans, I couldn’t believe how different things were and how much more the kids were going to do compared to what my group did. This was the exciting part: we were informed that parents could also go on the trip.

As a parent, I had a desire for something my daughter protested.

Despite the cringe-worthy price tag for both my daughter and I to attend, I made up my mind then and there that I was going to do whatever it took to experience this with her. I was already looking forward to taking our picture together in front of the Washington Monument and guiding her through the Holocaust Museum (I studied history and Holocaust literature in college). It would be a mother-daughter experience to remember forever.

There was only one small hiccup: my daughter vehemently protested my companionship. She was adamant that if I went on the trip, she was staying home.

My first instinct (after pulling the knife out of my heart) was to push back and say, “Too bad. If I’m paying for it, I can go.” But as my daughter’s rejection sunk in, I looked deeper at the situation and discovered a teenager desperately wanting to forge her own path of independence.

I mean, who needs parents, anyway? They’re embarrassing. They’re obnoxious. They post funny pictures of you on social media. They show up at your school and “nanny” you in front of your friends. They call you by your childhood nickname in front of your crush. Parents were obviously never young once because they just don’t “get it.”

Teens are confusing, mama. It’s not just you.

For some reason, when children become teens, they expect parents to magically disappear from their lives. They don’t need us anymore (or so they think). And even though I went through this same stage with my own parents, I’m now seeing the other side, and this is the terrifying part.

In many ways, I feel like I am not equipped mentally or emotionally to handle my children growing up. Call it sentimentality, call it fear, call it whatever. The fact that my children are transitioning out of the wanting-to-be-held phase and into the isolation phase pierces me deeply.

Everything is new territory with my oldest. Her firsts as a young woman growing up are also my firsts as a mother. And no matter how much I try and put myself in her shoes (because contrary to her beliefs, I was a teenage girl once), it never compares. Times are different, children are different, and I have to come to grips with the fact that my daughter is no longer the little girl with spiral ringlets and an affinity for “dub dub” (ketchup).

This is the aspect of motherhood I don’t know if I will ever get used to, the “letting go.” I know it’s an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s hard to realize your children are becoming more and more self-sufficient and don’t need you as much. It’s hard not to wish them back to diapers and swaddling blankets, where they relied on you for everything, and you could hold them and protect them from our big, scary world.

Thinking back to when I took this trip, I admit my mother didn’t go with me. Now, whether that was because parents weren’t allowed to go then, or because my parents couldn’t afford it, or because I didn’t want her to go, I’m not sure. I certainly don’t remember stomping my feet in protest, but then again, I don’t remember my mom ever acknowledging she wanted to go. In fact, I never knew she wanted to take that trip until many years later at her funeral when my dad told me that she had always wanted to see the monuments and memorials in D.C., but she chose to let her children go instead.

The hard lesson every mom has to learn.

An act of selflessness, for sure, but I think it was also an act of letting go.

My mom wanted me to have an adventure on my own. She wanted me to have some responsibility and freedom, and she knew that if she were there with me, I couldn’t fully experience being away from home. I needed this rite of passage (albeit still supervised) to grow and learn and mature outside the watchful eyes of my parents.

Because of this, I decided to let my daughter go without me. I signed her up, paid the deposit, then cried into a box of Girl Scout cookies. Next May, she will officially be halfway across the country with a group of her peers learning and experiencing and having fun, and I will be at home, missing her like crazy and praying for her safe return.

And when she comes back, I will be here, ready to hear all about her adventures; when she’s prepared to share them.

Looking for more encouragement on parenting teens?

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