Eighteen years ago, I pulled you onto my belly, your newborn silky smoothness nestling into my stretched skin. My first baby, my first taste of motherly love, my first day of a forever-altered life. Eighteen years have gone by in a flash, and at the same time felt like an eternity. Eighteen years of snuggles and struggles, of worry and wonder, of incessant needs and incomparable joys. Eighteen birthdays, and here we are.
I’ve been through so many mothering milestones, I didn’t think any of them could faze me anymore. But 18 threw me a bit. Thoughts and feelings I didn’t expect have come washing over me as we’ve crossed this threshold together—you as an official grownup, me as the parent of a legal adult.
The “legal” thing hit me in ways I wouldn’t have anticipated. I had looked forward to helping you register to vote, excited to have you contribute your voice as a citizen. That’s as far as my mind had gone in anticipating the legality of 18. But when it arrived, I realized that there were other realities that came along with it.
You are now responsible for yourself in the legal sense. You can sign your own contracts. You can apply for your own credit. You can give consent for sex. You can officially get sued. If you were to commit a crime, you’d be 100% accountable. You could go to prison.
Not that I anticipate that happening, of course. Nor do I anticipate the other reality that dawned on me: You could technically walk out the door and never come back, and there’s nothing I could do about it. The authorities couldn’t make you come home. Legally, you are emancipated from your parents for good. We have an awesome relationship, so I’m not worried, but it’s weird to realize that that’s even a possibility.
Conversely, we could kick you out of our house and never let you come back, and be within our legal rights to do so. Our legal responsibility for you ended overnight—boom—just like that. Again, not going to happen, but so bizarre to know that the law of the land no longer binds us. (I actually never thought about the fact that laws did bind us, so it’s a doubly strange realization.)
But the legal stuff is just one aspect of this milestone. What hits me more are all the parenting questions and doubts I’ve had over the years, now ready to be answered. Have I done right by you? Have I taught you what you need to know to make your way in the world? Were we able to strike the balance between supporting and coddling, freedom and structure, fun and discipline in our household to create a healthy, thriving adult?
How much of the amazing, mature, perfectly flawed human adult that you are is a result of our parenting, and how much of you is who you were always going to be no matter what? The questions of nature vs. nurture that humanity has asked throughout history stand open and unanswered right in front of me.
I think back over your childhood and ponder the choices we made. The parenting philosophies we pored over. The routines we tried and failed to maintain. The times we lost our patience. I know we did a lot of things right, and I cringe at the things we may have done wrong. But I’m also keenly aware on this side of the journey that there’s no such thing as perfection in parenting. We’re all trying desperately not to screw it up, but we’re all screwing up somehow. Such is life
I also look back with gratitude at all the life and memories we’ve shared. Our epic family travel adventures. The Thanksgivings where you fell in love with grandma’s recipes. Simple pleasures like feeding ducks, building snowmen, and rewatching favorite movies. You grew up surrounded by love, laughter, curiosity, and community. And as you start to carve out your own adult path, I am hopeful that those memories will comfort you through your challenges and remind you that you always have a soft place to come home to.
The legal end of your childhood ending doesn’t mean you don’t still need me, and you’re not on your own just yet. I still have a lot of parenting to do. But 18 comes with a reevaluation of what parenting means and what my role should be. I love that we’ve reached this stage, to have succeeded in raising an adult child, and to see our relationship evolving into something new—but I’m going to need a minute to let it sink in if you don’t mind.
This is 18. The end and the beginning. It’s exciting but also a little sad and scary for both of us to be here, saying an official goodbye to your childhood. But I’m glad we’re here together.
Annie Reneau is a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone. Her writing can be found on Upworthy and Scary Mommy, in O Magazine, and in a big ol’ slush pile inside her head. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.