Detachment: Letting Go Of My Growing Children.
I put my 14-year-old daughter on a plane yesterday morning at the crack of dawn… to the Galapagos Islands.
She is traveling with a group of science students and their teachers through their high school. Months ago, when she told me she wanted to go, I was thrilled at the opportunity for her, but I had my reservations.
After all, this girl likes to be in touch with me regularly… she needs and values my input and relies on me to help her make major decisions.
So why, from the safety of my room at home, am I the one who is suddenly feeling homesick and lost at sea? I’m not the one on a foreign group of islands off the coast of Ecuador.
Oh wait, could it be that this girl likes to be in touch with her daughter regularly… that this girl is the one who needs and values her input and relies on her to help make major decisions? Feeling the absence of my girl, I realize I’ve come to depend on her in a way that is probably borderline unhealthy.
The process of letting go of my growing children is starting now. In retrospect, it should have been happening gradually over the years, but then this generation doesn’t play outside on the cul-de-sacs like mine did. We are connected constantly and in a very codependent way, and breaking the chain is going to be challenging.
Between my 16-year-old son telling me to just chill and let me live my own life (when he has lost his keys and his wallet about four times in the past four months) to my daughter taking off to a distant land where cell phone and texting service will be spotty at best, I am feeling the pain of birthing them all over again.
The kind of pain that, in the end, I will know was worth it, but right now it’s just pain — mixed with hearty doses of panic and fear.
When I was 15, I also went on a teen tour with my high school — the same one that my two older kids attend now. I took off at the crack of dawn and headed to Europe for at least two weeks, if not longer. We didn’t have cell phones to text or call home. I’m not sure I remember ever trying to contact my parents during the majority of that trip.
Perhaps I sent a postcard out of obligation.
Maybe the ease with which I separated from my own parents (and they from me) at that time was that I had gone to summer camp in upstate New York (although we lived in Southern California) for many summers in my young life.
We had total freedom for about eight weeks, where the consequences of our actions included scraped knees and blisters and athlete’s foot and getting head lice. Despite the filth, those days have given me some of the best memories of my life.
One of my campmates, a boy named Clifford, even opted to wear nothing but a Speedo swimsuit the majority of one summer. And it was fine. He was empowered to make his own decisions and to learn from his mistakes… although he seemed quite comfortable that summer, so maybe he’s still walking around in a Speedo today.
Good for him.
My siblings and I were raised in a time when we kids in the neighborhood were set free after school to roam around on our bikes (no helmets) and set fire to things and play with garter snakes all until we heard the familiar sounds of dinner bells disguised as our mothers’ voices bellowing through the streets.
We had independence and freedom that this generation will never experience. We woke up and walked or took the bus to and from school. We grabbed spare change out of the kitchen drawer when we heard the ice cream truck approaching, and we’d join our neighbors for this communal ritual on a weekly basis.
We were in and out of each others’ homes without having first scheduled a play date. We just showed up and ate each others’ food and survived gluten! When we were slightly older, we got jobs and cashed our paychecks on a Friday in order to have spending money for the weekends because ATMs didn’t exist.
Side note: I remember when Wells Fargo Bank installed their first ATM in Pacific Palisades, my mother and I speculated that maybe the small redheaded man who worked inside the bank was the one who had to sit in the ATM dispensing cash. After all, he could fit.
I want my kids to be independent. And I realize it’s my co-dependence that is holding them back. I see that now, and I have to make some changes.
I let my son pack his own backpack for a boy scout camp out this weekend, and he needed to bring food. He threw in a pack of Ramen. No utensils, no bowl. I couldn’t help myself, and had to rectify the situation for fear that he would starve to death on a hill in Ojai.
When I wake him for the fifth time every weekday morning, threatening to leave if he isn’t in the car by 7 am, I should do it. I should leave by 7 am. But I can’t. I wait and wait, and we argue — and he ends up getting the message that I’ll wait and wait and the arguing is annoying, but he ultimately wins, but really he is losing.
He is losing by not learning the lesson that he needs to show up and be on time. I need to help him learn this, so I may then let him go out into the world knowing he is prepared to succeed — in relationships and at jobs and in life.
My daughter’s International phone service isn’t working. We did everything Sprint told us to do, but it simply isn’t working. I know that if she needs, she will contact me through one of her traveling companions as she did via text this morning.
I know that in an emergency, her teachers and the other adults traveling with her group will use their best judgment to keep her safe. There is really nothing I can do from here. I just have to have faith for 10 days that she will be okay without me, and that I will be okay without her.
And I know, in my heart, that when she comes home from this adventure, she will have gained things I never could have given her here at home.
Meanwhile, my son, on the hill in Ojai, would have survived on uncooked Ramen if he had to… and maybe next time he’d think twice if I hadn’t intervened. I am trying to get better at letting go.
In fact, before he left this morning, I reminded him that his wetsuit is wet and in a duffel bag in our garage from his surfing class this past Thursday morning. I told him this on Thursday… and on Friday… and again this morning. It’s a $500 wetsuit. And I’m not going to remove it from that bag.
I warned him, “You need to take care of this, or it will get moldy and be ruined.” He assured me, “Wetsuits don’t work that way, mom. Chill.” We shall see how chill I can be. Last week I reminded him at least three times to bring in a surfboard from our front patio. He didn’t, and it got stolen. That’s not so chill.
Detachment is the only word that comes to mind with regards to what I am experiencing. I tell myself that I need to detach in order to guide them in the highest way without letting myself be a roadblock to their independence. It feels like I am literally cutting the umbilical cord again, but it’s the only way they can grow.
So here we go.
Susie Bean Breitbart is an artist, a mother and a survivalist with a poor sense of direction, but a fierce determination to keep searching for truth and happiness in this life. She finds that, through artistic endeavors such as painting, drawing, interior design and writing, she is starting to grow and heal in ways she never imagined possible.