“We need some space.”
Four little words that can catch you by surprise and turn your whole world around. It’s such a simple phrase, but the subtext is loud and clear. It probably falls just behind, “it’s not you, it’s me” in the world of relationship clichés.
I am 53 years old and I have never had cause to use that phrase. I was a “we need some space” virgin, if you will. That is, until last week. And surprisingly, I didn’t use it in the typical way.
The receiving end of that directive was my twenty one year-old daughter and it was a long time coming.
My 21-Year Old Daughter Needed to Be More Independent
To be clear, I am not breaking ties with her. I am not disowning her, cutting her out of my life or anything close to that. What I am doing is forcing her to not rely on me for every decision she makes in her life.
On one hand, my daughter is fiercely independent. When she was five and I was traveling alone with all three of my kids, one being a baby, she had no issue cutting the line at the airport to ask the gate agent if our flight was delayed. I was trying to get my 10 month old situated so that I could get in line with all three kids to ask the agent about our flight. My daughter looked at me and simply said, “I got this.” And off she went.
She was a leader all through high school—president of various clubs and a two year captain for her volleyball team. She is a world traveler who spent months abroad and had no problem traveling on her own or figuring out differences in language. She is a go-getter by all accounts.
This may be why I never truly realized the extent to how reliant she was on me. I often overlooked the day-to-day barrage of questions I would get from her. When she was younger it would be easy questions like choosing between Nutella and peanut butter in her sandwich. Or if she should wear shorts or pants. These questions came fast and furious on a daily basis. Some I would answer while others got an eye roll accompanied by a “seriously?”.
As she got older, the questions mostly came in the form of texts. If she was out shopping with friends, she would often text me a picture of a shirt or a dress and ask me if she should get them. She would be at a friend’s house and ask if she should stay overnight or come home. More often than not, it was easier for me to just text my opinion rather than bother with a lecture about making her own decisions.
This has continued throughout college and my frustration at how many questions she asks me in a day has grown exponentially with every year. I still get multiple texts a day with typically inane questions that she should easily be answering for herself.
Now she is twenty one and living in New York City for the summer and I realized that this has to stop. I can no longer be her guide to what seems like every decision she makes throughout her day.
Last week she texted me to ask if she should try almond milk in her coffee. That was when I knew I had had enough. We had had enough. I started to look back at all of the text conversations we have had in the last few weeks and I was aghast at what I saw. There it was in black and white—I created this. I was enabling her and I only have myself to blame.
I called her that night and engaged in a break up of sorts. We definitely needed space and I know that in her heart she knew it too. I am embarrassed that I let it go for this long. My incredibly independent girl was also extremely dependent. On me.
I’m not sure if there’s a 12-step program that would make this easier, but for better or worse, my method is somewhat cold turkey. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is this question? For now, I want nothing less than an 8.
I’m hoping that we can eventually find some middle ground. I mean there are definitely occasions when it would be fun to help her pick out a skirt or a crazy frozen yogurt combination. I’m afraid we aren’t there yet, though. Hopefully, a little space will go a long way. For both of us.