When my oldest was just starting school, I talked with her teacher about an upcoming field trip.
I had concerns about the trip, and the teacher said something I will never forget. She said there comes a time when a parent has to let go, and cut the apron strings.
My daughter was barely five years old. That wasn’t about to happen any time soon. At that age, it was my job to hold on tight.
That same daughter is now 15, with one year of high school under her belt. Over the years I’ve realized parenting is a delicate balance between protection and freedom. And just when you think you have it right, the rules change and you have to find middle ground again.
Every year brings challenges. In elementary school it was riding the bus and playground politics. In middle school it was mean girls and homework. Now in high school, the stakes are much higher and are focused on her future. The basis of relationships, college and the rest of her life are being formed right now. I still need to pay attention, perhaps more than ever. But I also need to back off just enough.
As we’ve gone through each phase, I think I learn more than she does and I try to remember for her younger sister. I often joke that she is the one I make all my mistakes on. For each thing I might do right, I certainly do a lot of things wrong when it comes to parenting. There are times I wish I had taken a big breath and a big step back. There are times I wish I’d have thought before speaking. I would rather have those mistakes, made out of my love and caring, than larger ones, made out of her inexperience, that are harder to fix.
Am I tough? Probably. Do I have high expectations? Certainly.
I expect to know where she is at all times and with whom. I expect to be spoken to respectfully. I expect her to do her best in school and, if she can’t get help at home, find it in the classroom by speaking up. I expect that, someday, she will take some of my advice and completely ignore it. I expect that she will have to make her own mistakes. And I expect that I will hate every minute of it.
Do I worry about her, even though she’s never given me anything to worry about? Constantly.
I don’t worry about her as much as I worry about the world around her. Weird stuff happens, and sometimes good kids are caught in the middle. I just hope I’ve given her the tools to make good decisions and, when in doubt, the freedom to come to me for help.
Freedom, in fact, is exactly what I hope I am giving her by staying close. It’s the freedom to venture a little from home, but always be able to come back. It’s the freedom to make mistakes, but be able to learn from them.
So yes, 10 years later, those apron strings are still fully attached. These days they stretch more than ever and I expect they will continue to do that. They will never break, however, and I don’t think either of us wants them to.