My daughter is going to be a freshman in college in about two weeks. She is looking forward to the adventure that awaits her there. I am happy for her and excited to see her grow into the adult she is meant to be. I just don’t know how to do this part of parenting. My own parents had either left me or told me not to come back during my high school and college years.
This post is for and about parents who weren’t parented themselves.
My Parents Rejected Me When I Was a Teen
By reading and watching other families, I understand that some parents like having their kids around and will miss them terribly when they go. I understand that other parents will be happy to see their kids go, and will welcome them back for holidays and breaks. I’m still trying to see where my heart is; I suspect I will fall somewhere in the middle.
I love my daughter and want her to know she has a home here, but I also am happy to see her want to try life on her own terms. Not because I left her. Not because I told her to leave, but by her own volition. I just want to be a regular mom, and act like a responsible parent so that my daughter can move on to adulthood without worrying about being welcome at home. But I struggle with being functional in this way, since my own time at that age was marked with rejection.
My parents divorced when I was in high school. My mother left, and I saw her only a few times after that. The rest of the time, I lived with my father, who remarried. He was focused on his new life and on starting a new family. While I never wanted for anything physically, neither did I get the help I needed to deal with the sudden absence of my mother. Years later, my father admitted he saw I was depressed, but didn’t do anything about it. In any case, I was left to my own devices, I didn’t cause any trouble, and I finished up high school with good grades and what I thought was a good grip on how to keep my trauma to myself.
There were no tears or hugs when I left for college. I was on my own to find housing and jobs over breaks (when the dorms closed) and summers. My sophomore year, my stepmother told me not to come back home at all. While there has been some reconciliation since then, a long stretch of my adolescence and young adulthood was marked by adults choosing to keep their distance from me. I was unmoored, and I didn’t know why.
The absence of parenting in those years made it hard for me to navigate being a mother when my kids hit that same stage. I had no familial role models. I looked and continue to look to books, websites, and friends for help. I have relied on groups like Grown & Flown to see what other parents do, to get a sense of “normal” or the silly or serious ways that people approach parenting teens and young adults.
For example, I have been fascinated by booster groups at the kids’ school and completely buffaloed by their activities. I couldn’t believe how they were all about supporting everyone’s kids, although I have since become quite the expert on making shredded chicken sandwiches in the concession stand. All three of my kids wave to me when I volunteer there, and my heart sings for just a moment, “I’m doing it!” I go to every performance and every game, and I watch the other parents (oh so casually) so that I know what to do to show my support. Send a note and flower backstage? Check. Buy Gatorade for the team? Check. I try, although I am always anxious that I am not doing it right, even now.
Now my daughter is leaving, which is a tough transition for me. I want to push her out and pull her back, and always, always I want her to know I love her and will always want her. As a result, I devour writings about parents who struggle to see their children leave for the first time. These pieces have a strange, almost National Geographic feel for me, like I’m reading about a culture I’ve never encountered before.
I like to read what other parents write about parenting because they guide me, and let me know that the feelings I have are felt by others. I treasure reading about the nice things people do for their new college students, and wonder if I will have the courage to do the same. So, I want to thank other parents for sharing themselves and their stories with me and for helping me learn how to be present, helpful and caring to my own young adults.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
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