A Letter To My 21 Year Old Son

by Sharon Greenthal
Originally Published: 
A mother holding and cuddling her son

What changes are there to come, my son, now that you will be 21? Which parenting rules still apply, and which ones are as irrelevant to your life now as the Little Tykes car that you used to careen around in? Up and down the block you’d go, your little legs propelling you forward. What changes, now that you’re legally able to buy a bottle of Grey Goose or a cocktail at a bar? Do my influence and my words of advice become pointless, or does maturing cause you to listen more closely?

How does it feel to look back over 21 years and know that, once and for all, your childhood is over? Eighteen may be a legal milestone, but as all parents know, most college freshmen are nowhere near adulthood. It’s 21 that marks the beginning of the next phase of your life — the start of your life as a grown man. I see the beginnings of it all, looking at you, remembering the sweet little boy with a Barney the Dinosaur obsession and a Gymboree blanket he took everywhere he went.

There’s so much more to come, and you’re anxious for it all to happen, I see that. Don’t rush it. Don’t wish your life away. Be 21 and then 22, and on and on.

Be a young man with the world an open book for you to read at your leisure. Or, in your case, think of it as a football season just beginning. There are so many things to figure out, and it won’t happen all at once. You’re impatient — just like I was. You want tomorrow to happen yesterday. Please, stay here for a moment.

I take steps back, consciously, leaving you room to breathe, to be separate from me, from your father. I want you to find your way, the voice in your head telling you what to do a delicate mix of us, your grandparents, your sister, your friends (of course your friends) and your own personal code of behavior.

I see you make choices that make me proud of your instincts, trusting your own judgment after a lifetime of saying “help me figure this out.” You don’t need us as much anymore. You told your father, “I finally realized I don’t have to tell you and Mom everything,” and I knew we had done our job. But we’re still here, ready to give you our words of advice if you need them — though it’s less and less often that you ask. You’ve grown up.

Sometimes I miss that little boy, the one with the purple dinosaur on his bed and enormous green eyes that looked at me as if I was the queen of the world. But I love the man you’ve become, that you’re becoming. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you — but I will. I’ll linger here for a moment, just like you should.

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