Here’s the thing about watching my babies morph from little girls into young women: they are thinking for themselves and making decisions that don’t necessarily require my final say and every time they start down their own independent path, I have to have a serious talk with myself about letting go and letting it happen and figure out how to get over feeling like my beating heart is walking away. This is the lot of us parents—the ones who spend a lifetime teaching our children and, in what seems like a split second, must learn how to let them go and be okay with it.
That was the case when my firstborn, Mari, went off to college and certainly this summer, when she plotted and paid for a three-month summer trip studying and volunteering in Botswana.
Botswana, my dude.
With a bunch of people she didn’t know.
In a country clean on the other side of the world.
Where it would be impossible for me to check on her and make sure she’s okay and rush to her side and just, like, fix things if they went awry. Hell, I couldn’t even call her when I wanted to. Or FaceTime. Or text.
Please understand, this was not an easy proposition while my child was in Africa. She was staying with a perfectly lovely woman, but she was a stranger—unvetted by me. I had to eat that. She was studying in a program with which her university did not have an affiliation, and she had to talk them into accepting credits. I couldn’t make that call—she had to. I had to eat that. She travelled to neighboring countries with students she’d just met—in one instance, being kicked out of an Airbnb and making the decision to travel 12 hours back to Botswana in the middle of the night. Yes, I was up that entire 12 hours praying to Sweet Baby Jesus, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Ma’at Chet, Budda and alldem, but taking to the dirt roads in the pitch dark with a van fill of pretty girls in a foreign country was her call, not mine. I did tell her it wasn’t a good idea. But it was ultimately her decision. I grilled that up and ate it for Sunday dinner while I prayed.
This is to say that we’ve entered a new phase of our mother/daughter where, even though she runs her thoughts by me, she is confident enough to problem-solve on her own. And you know what? I’m proud of that. I am. No matter how scary it is to let go. Basically, I’ve had to practice the “listening not fixing” portion of parenting, where I have to trust that what I poured into my daughter all these years counts for something as she forges her own way as a young adult. I can no longer orchestrate and control every aspect of her life. Instead, I have to let her make her own choices—about studying, dating, employment, even social choices, like choosing to have a cocktail with friends—advise where necessary and keep my freak-outs to a minimum while she lives her life.
Don’t get it twisted—I’m still parenting my 20-year-old. Parenting doesn’t end when your kid turns 18 or heads off to college. Hell, my daddy still parents me and I’m almost 51 years old. It’s just a different kind of parenting—one that requires a hands-off, advisory approach that replaces the do-exactly-as-I-say mothering I’ve done up until now. This requires trust—trust that I did my job and did it well, and trust that my daughter keeps in the back of her mind all the lessons I’ve taught her along the way.
The kid’s going to be all right.
I’m encouraging each of us moms to find moments when we can listen to rather than fix our kids’ problems. Doing this successfully requires us to #talkearly to our kids about responsibility and making good choices—even and especially when we’re not around. Need some help with that talk? Visit the Responsibility.org site for conversation starters and resources to help you bring out the natural leadership skills in your kid. It’s so worth it.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.