“Did you eat breakfast this morning?” I asked my daughter, a few weeks after I’d dropped her off at her college dorm. There was an imperceptible pause before she answered, “No.” My daughter’s hesitation registered and it was a stunning moment of realization for me.
I’ve been on the parenting treadmill for 18 years. I confess that even after I dropped my twins in college I continued to mechanically run at the same speed, and at the same resistance, asking the same questions that I used to when they were around: Where are you? When are you coming back? Did you finish your homework? Are you dressed appropriately?
It took that moment of consideration in my daughter’s response to underscore my own resistance to their liberation. Had I begun to smother my kids with my mothering?
Parenting imposes an imbalance. It assumes that I, the mother, am superior by virtue of age, experience and kinship, to them, my children. This imbalance must be irksome to 18 year-olds who are adults in most of the United States and the world. So, with each of my (concerned? inquisitive? intrusive?) questions, am I subverting the principles of self-reliance and independence essential for adulthood?
I asked my friends the question: when do you stop parenting? And I got responses ranging from “never” to “now.” What became clear was that there was no one right answer, and no answer that could cover all scenarios. We, mothers and fathers, must find our own equation to stay connected to our children.
Eighteen years of parenting is a hard habit to break and it is difficult to let go. Especially, when I am consumed by nostalgia as I find pieces of my kids’ presence in their now vacant rooms: photographs of friends, graded essays, a map of the world and the books they once devoured. I have to remind myself that part of me has also gone with my children.
These days, I have discovered how to converse with my children. We talk about politics, people, professors and parties. I listen. I breathe hard and fast at times, but remain even-voiced as I respond.
The treadmill still sits, occupying space in my psyche, and for now it rests unplugged.