The Beginning of the End (of Childhood)

My almost 17 year old stepson got his driver’s license this spring and over the course of the summer, I’ve barely seen him. He keeps busy during the day in a summer sailing program and spends some of his free time on his part time lawn mowing job. The rest of his free time is filled with social engagements. From barbecues to crab feasts, golf outings, and windsurfing, there always seems to be a festivity of some sort in which he is invited to participate. Inevitably, the barbecue leads to a sleepover and, before we know it, days go by without us seeing him.

My stepdaughter is also busy – in her case, with a packed babysitting schedule. She has done a great job of lining up two or three families that, together, have employed her on a nearly full time basis this summer. She loves her job and is very good at it, but the best part (especially for a 14 year old girl who likes to shop) is that it pays well.

In principle, I have no problem with my kids’ summer schedule, but the reality is that when you combine all the time spent on camps, summer jobs, and fun with friends with the time they spend over at their mother’s house, there has been little to no time for us to spend together as a family. Case in point – in late July, I purchased tickets for all six of us to go to a local waterpark and, believe it or not, it’s looking very likely that there will not be a single day before summer ends and the park closes that we can all go spend the day there together.

The rational side of me knows that I need to just let it go. My stepdaughter leaves for boarding school this fall and in about two years, my stepson will be starting college and we’ll see even less of him. In the interim, it’s natural for teenaged girls and boys to break away and establish their independence.
The mom side of me thinks that’s a bunch of baloney and feels like, at some point, family time has to take precedence over everything else.

I have no idea which – my rational side or my mom side – is right, but the reality is that it really doesn’t matter. You can force teenagers to give up friend time in favor of family time, but when you do, family time is no fun. They have a pretty incredible talent for digging their heels in and making things fairly unpleasant when you make them do something they don’t want to.

What I’ve begun to realize is that this is the beginning of the end. The end of their childhood, that is. As they make the transition to adulthood, the challenge for us – their parents (and stepparents) – is to find a “new normal” in which we can all spend time together. My guess is that it won’t be nearly as much time as it used to be, but that is okay as long as we make the time we DO have count.

Recognizing this is one thing, but letting go is another. My kids are more than ready for their independence. Me? Not so much (and I’m just the stepmom – I can’t imagine how hard it is for their mom!). But this is really what parenting is all about, isn’t it? You teach your little birds to fly and, when they actually leave the nest, you are inevitably calling for them to come back.

Sigh…

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  1. D2Clark’s avatar

    Kathleen: I totally agree with you, but only up to a point. I am in the same situation as you (step-mom & mom)( and you personally know all the various people).
    Once everyone goes out and flies on their own wings, that’s fabulous.
    BUT……. when one, some or all do not have any sense of ‘home base'(i.e family roots) that can bring real saddness into one’s heart.
    Last night, we attended a 50th wedding anniversary party given by their 4 children and listened to their wonderful, meandering comments about life in their family. It made us both very sad, as none of our children exhibit any of those same sentiments. They have flown the coop and will never return, except for funerals and weddings.

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    1. Kathleen’s avatar

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comment DeDe! You definitely touched upon the toughest part about this situation – when does independence become detachment? It is a question I ask myself all the time. It made me sad to read how you felt at the party. Now that I am a mother myself, I can definitely appreciate how hard it must be to lose that bond with your children. But I also think that time can heal many wounds and you never know what the future holds! Hang in there … it wouldn’t surprise me if one or more of them reached out to you guys in the coming years.

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