I started to weep, ever so quietly. I didn’t want my 14-year old daughter, who was sitting at her desk in the room next door, to hear me. If she heard me, she’d come and ask me why I was crying. And if she asked, I’d have to tell her. And if I told her, she’d smile awkwardly, try half-heartedly to console me and reach the inevitable conclusion that her mom was absolutely bonkers.
My 14-year-old starts high school tomorrow.
I am excited for her. I am also sad.
Her comments to me over the past few weeks have consisted of variations on the same theme:
Mom, I don’t need you to…
Mom, I can handle it.
Mom, I know what I’m doing.
Mom, don’t worry.
Mom, I got this.
Mom, I don’t need your help.
The other day, my husband and I allowed her to go into Manhattan alone with a friend for the first time. The day before their adventure, she and I mapped out the itinerary—a four-mile walking trail of thrift stores.
As we sat at the dining room table reviewing distances on Google Maps, I recalled my own visits to New York when I was her age. I suggested she check out one of my favorite teenage haunts, Canal Jean Company, before I realized that the legendary store went out of business more than a decade ago. It was a bittersweet discovery that served as a metaphorical reminder that, as the middle-aged mom of a high school student, I should encourage my daughter to forge her own path rather than follow in my footsteps.
Although the oft-repeated themes of self-actualization and independence expressed by my teenager make me proud, they also make me long for the days when she regularly needed me more than I needed her. I now understand what’s happening. The seesaw is shifting in the other direction, and I’m losing my balance.
I’m starting to need her more than she needs me.
My daughter and her friend easily navigated the train, the Penn Station labyrinth and the streets of Greenwich Village. I initially attributed her successful outing to my insistence that we prepare the route ahead of time. However, as she excitedly modeled her new used clothes for us after she returned home, it occurred to me that my taking all the credit for her survival in the urban jungle was ridiculously unfair. It was her confidence and her maturity—and her ability to read a map—that ultimately got her safely and uneventfully to New York and back.
My tears are lodged just behind my eyes. I can feel them lurking there, teasing me, daring me to set them free. After today’s round of “Mom, I don’t need you to…,” I thought about my father, who died one year before my daughter was born. Did he experience dueling pangs of regret and pride when I began to assert my independence as a teenager? I wish he were here to reminisce with me and witness his eldest granddaughter’s latest milestone.
My daughter walked to the high school earlier today to see how much time she would need to get there in the morning. I secretly hoped she’d ask me to join her on her dry run. Instead, she asked a friend. She doesn’t need me for such things anymore.
What she does need from me is space: Space to leave childhood behind as she gradually enters the realm of adulthood. Space to make her own mistakes and learn from them. Space to define herself. Space to discover her passions. And space to know when to ask for help.
She’s only 14. She will need me again and when she does, I’ll be waiting for her with open arms.