My kids are getting old. And I don’t like it.
Wait, that sounded harsh. Lemme try that again.
Now that they’re in college, my kids don’t need me anymore in the same ways they used to and I miss being needed as somebody’s mom.
See, it’s not that I don’t want them to grow up. Of course, I want them to grow up. Like any mom, I want my girls to grow into strong, empowered women, with families of their own someday. I want them to be fiercely independent, to live big, and love passionately, while still wanting me to wipe the corners of their mouth from time to time.
I know that’s a slight contradiction, but it’s how I really feel.
I guess what I’ve realized is that I’m just not ready for my kids not to need me for all the little things anymore. Because the farther away I get from doing those little things—like wiping their mouth and braiding their hair and tying their shoes—the more I miss them. And while I recognize that it would look slightly odd if I licked my finger and wiped the tomato sauce off my eighteen-year-old’s chin when we’re out to dinner, I still sometimes feel the urge. It’s the yin and the yang of parenting, I guess.
Funny how when we’re in the thick of their youth and our kids constantly need us—for absolutely everything—we just wish they could fend for themselves. And as soon as they reach the age when they’re old enough to self-soothe or walk downtown on their own or keep secrets, that urge to be needed starts bubbling up again.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that my girls don’t need my help going to the bathroom anymore or zippering their hoodies or cutting up their food. After all those years of needing my help to do those little things, it’s rewarding to watch them come out of a mall bathroom fully zipped up, knowing that I was the one who taught them how to do it. Life skills, ya know.
It’s beautiful to watch our kids go from depending on us for every single human need when they’re babies, to walking and eating and dressing and driving and living on their own. That’s the natural order of things. Right? Of course it is. But it still doesn’t change the fact that I sometimes still feel hollow inside when they’re so damn self-sufficient.
That’s why I was so excited when my eighteen-year-old got her wisdom teeth removed. She was just loopy enough from painkillers that she legitimately needed me for all kinds of stuff. And it was beautiful.
Don’t misunderstand, I obviously wasn’t happy that she was in pain and down for the count for most of the week. It’s always so much worse experiencing our kids’ pain than our own. I’m just focusing on the fact that she was in a situation where she needed me again in ways she hasn’t needed me in a very long time. And I’m not gonna lie, her being in pain notwithstanding, I loved every second of taking care of her.
Like when, the first few hours after surgery, before the Novocaine wore off, she actually let me wipe the vanilla milkshake drool off her chin every time she took a spoonful. That was one of my favorite moments. And yeah, I confess, there were a few times when I assured her that her face was totally clean even though there was a really huge drip dangling from her chin. (Don’t judge me. It was adorable. And you would’ve done the exact same thing.)
And I loved being able to press the ice packs against her cheeks for her so she could cinch the drawstring on her hoodie tight enough to hold them in place. And because we had to do that every twenty minutes for three days, it amounted to some real quality time together.
I got to bring her bowls of ice cream and make her soup and buckets of mashed potatoes and she let me blow on them to bring the temperature down. And we’re talking like a decade since she’s let me do anything like that for her.
Probably the best thing, though, was the invitation I got to sit with her on the couch and watch TV together. I never saw that one coming. I mean, she was incredibly uncomfortable and, at times, slightly delirious, so I just assumed that she had mistaken me for someone else. But on the afternoon of the third day of her teeth coming out, she just lifted her legs up off the couch and asked me to come over and sit with her. And between you and me, once I realized that she did, in fact, know it was me, I almost cried. That’s because I can’t even tell you the last time I sat on the couch with my daughter’s legs draped over my lap.
The point of all this is that no matter how old our kids are, we’ll always be their parents and we’ll always have the secret desire to be needed as their moms and dads. And when the rare opportunity presents itself, we should consider it a gift, pounce on it, and savor the moment for as long as we can.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free, available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores everywhere. Lisa is also a MentorMama at SocialMama,the networking app for moms.