This week my second child got his license. I was at work, staring nervously at the clock when his road test was scheduled to take place. I prayed that if Warren, the intimidating registry inspector was assigned to give him his road test, he would remain focused on the task of driving safely and using the proper signals.
Moments later, a text came to me. I GOT MY LICENSE! This was followed by a picture of him behind the wheel, ready to take his first solo ride back to school. Fantastic.
How did this happen? How is he old enough to drive away alone? I distinctly remember standing in our driveway (the one he just backed out of alone), watching the kindergarten bus take him away for his first day of school. He was smiling happily. I, on the other hand, couldn’t talk to the grandparents and neighbors standing with me. The lump in my throat prevented any sound from escaping.
Why is it so hard for me to let go?
As a parent, I’m fully aware that letting go is necessary if my kids are to become independent. Letting go means letting them make some decisions on their own and letting them be responsible for their own actions. This is not easy. It’s hard for me to refrain from reminding, warning and advising my children — about everything that they should do, everything that could happen — even though I know it’s more helpful to trust that they are making good decisions and choices. It’s perfectly normal for teenagers to not want to hear the reminders, warnings and advice because they want to be trusted. In fact, it is the occasional eye rolling that reminds me I may need to back off and let go.
Letting go and accepting that some mistakes will be made is an essential part of raising teenagers who will be able to function on their own. I am still in the process of learning this. I was recently upset, then pleased when a heavy package containing a high school text book arrived to our house via UPS. Frankly, I couldn’t understand how a big textbook could be misplaced somewhere between school and home but my daughter took the initiative and ordered another, gently used one, and paid to have it delivered to our home. I was not involved in any part of the process, yet the problem was solved. (She would not be allowed to graduate, I realize now, if she did not produce a textbook).
My son learned a valuable lesson when he showed up to play a high school baseball game and his uniform pants were caked with dirt from the previous game. His coach was disappointed in his appearance and voiced his feelings in front of the team. Since then, making sure his uniform gets into the laundry has become one of my son’s priorities, even if that means moving wet clothes from the washing machine to a temporary basket to make room for his uniform. I can accept that.
Bigger mistakes, I realize, will result in bigger lessons. A friend recently told me she wishes all new drivers could experience a minor car accident so they could learn how it feels and how easily it can happen to even the most attentive drivers. How will my young drivers react to being pulled over by a police officer? How will they deal with running out of gas when they are far from a gas station?
Years ago, before they had their own cell phones, my kids would occasionally call from the school office. I forgot my trumpet. Or, You forgot to sign my reading log. Or, I owe money for lunch. Unshowered, I would jump in the car and drive up to the school to make everything right. I wanted them to receive credit for homework they had completed. I didn’t want them to owe money for lunch or to have to sit and watch during band practice or gym class while everyone else participated.
At the time, the simple act of driving less than two miles to help my child, felt right. What I didn’t fully realize then, as some wise parents did, was that letting my kids face the consequences of their mistakes or absent-mindedness, is often wiser than rushing in to rescue them. Kids learn from their mistakes, even if the same mistakes are repeated over and over again. If the lessons don’t sink in right away, they will eventually.
By the time they are in high school, teenagers have been told over and over again to do their best. They know that hard work and perseverance in any activity is the key to success and that beginning in high school, grades really do count (on transcripts). It is up to them to show up, do their best, and ask for help if they need it. When they learn this most valuable lesson, the possibilities for them are endless.