I should be happy…my son is becoming independent

The steps have been gradual:

Sleeping through the night regularly.

Walking on his own.

Spooning food into his mouth by himself.

Going to the bathroom without help.

Picking out his own outfits without my input.

Showering and shampooing alone.

All those baby steps toward independence spelled relief for this tired mama, who craved the extra minutes added to each day by a little kid who could handle some of the more tedious tasks on his own.

Somewhere over the last couple of months, though, some of those much yearned-for steps brought on a different and unexpected feeling. They started out as pride, but somehow lately have evolved into something for which my feelings are harder to reconcile. 

My baby is developing his own new and separate world.

As parents, one of the happiest milestones has been seeing Fred emerge as a friend. There is so much joy to be had in this major development. When your child begins to build friendships, you begin to see even more acutely all the wonderfulness that is your child: her compassion, his ability to share and empathize, her desire to connect. You see your child from someone else’s eyes. Your child is liked. He is needed. She is important to somebody.

You’re so full of joy seeing the happiness in your child’s new world. How exciting it is to be invited on a playdate! How excruciating it is to tear themselves away from their best friends! There is huge solace knowing that your child is not alone in this world. As the parents of an only child, we feel this doubly so. How grateful we are for the “unofficial” brothers and sisters in Fred’s life.

And we do come to see Fred’s closest friends as his siblings. We feel that we love Jack – Fred’s best friend and self-professed brother (born 3 days apart and living 4 houses down) – almost as if he were our own child.

We love having Fred’s friends over and having the house filled with children’s voices and laughter. We love it for all of the reasons stated above, and busy fellow mothers and I have (only partially) joked that we also love it for the free time it affords us.

And then suddenly there is a shift.

Phone calls begin coming into the house that are for neither Max nor me. “Fred? Uh, hang on – I’ll go get him.”

Playdates are arranged unbeknownst to Max or me. “Yeah, me and Jack already talked about it at lunch today. He wants me to go to his house on Sunday.”

Door bells are being rung. “Can Fred come outside to play?/Can Fred come to my house?”

Requests are being made to see Jack or Isabella or Jeffrey after school, on Saturdays, on Sundays, on holidays. “Didn’t you just spend 8 hours with _____??” I always ask.

“You should be happy,” Max said this weekend, when a sudden panic fueled my urge to tear up. “Our son is becoming independent.”

As only a mother would, my mind fast-forwarded to junior high school – when Fred will be too embarrassed to “hang” with his parents – and to high school, when Fred will be too occupied with activities and friends and maybe even a girlfriend to spend much time at home. “Empty nest will not happen all of a sudden,” my nonchalant husband had once said to me.

And so that is how, in one weekend, what had been such a source of happiness for me suddenly became a window into the bittersweet that is motherhood. Next weekend, I told myself, I will plan better. We’ll do an outing, just the three of us.

As I waited for Fred to come home from Jack’s on Sunday (after he’d spent the day with Isabella on Saturday), I thought of what I would say to him when he walks through the door: that I wished I could have spent more time with him this weekend, that I wished he had wanted to be with me over his friends. But I knew my job as a mother. When Fred came home bounding up the stairs looking for me, I simply hugged him and said, “I missed you.”

7 thoughts on “I should be happy…my son is becoming independent

  1. Oh there are just so many, in fact, TOO MANY, fine lines that we have to balance precariously on in order to find the harmony in parenthood. “I miss you” was a wonderful response – probably not the first reaction, but I think you did great in expressing so much in just three little words. If only our kids knew just how much 🙂 Great post, Cecilia. As always.

  2. Mothering is so bittersweet, every step of the way. I can’t think of better words to have summed up your weekend than “I missed you.” I’m sure he missed you, too, in his own spreading-his-wings, independent way.

  3. Motherhood to me has been a series of lessons learned not too gracefully. My second is hitting her twos with a vengeance. Today, I realized it’s because I am still treating her like an opinion-less one. Oh. She has her own mind. I see my five year old with friends, but I still control so much. The days are coming when she’ll grow again and I’ll have to take a breath and say, oh, she has her own mind.

  4. Oh Cecilia, it is so hard to let go, isn’t it?! I’ve been struggling with this very issue for the past few months. Finally I decided to embrace the time we do spend together. Today the four kids and I wet to paint pottery. I approached the subject tentatively with the older two, a little afraid of their reactions, but we had such a good time!

    I think it’s all about focus. We need to choose to focus on the time we have instead of the time that is gone (so much easier said than done, but I’m trying).

  5. Beautiful post! I’ve always struggled with this. It seems that on the one hand, our goal as parents is to produce capable, independent, and able children. When that goal is reached through years of efforts, we, as mothers, must learn how to make sense of it all. Making sense of it all is what is, sometimes, hard. I am learning to stay in the moment with it all and be thankful for my daughter’s growth and all that has been gained in the process of that growth, rather than simply focusing on what has been lost.

  6. A couple of comments –

    1. As my eldest now equals me in height, has just asked to shave for the first time and is a confident “latch key” kid most afternoons, I too have mixed feelings about the growing up & away. But mostly I have enjoyed each stage more than the last (knock on wood) so I look forward to the inevitable: Driver License, Part Time Job, SATs, Graduation, etc, etc, grateful to be able to enjoy these milestones with healthy, happy offspring.

    2. As an only child myself, I can strongly affirm your approach – your love of the hubbub that arrives with Fred’s friends, your genuine affection for others’ children to the extent they feel like “your own”… That’s all wonderful. I cannot express how much I appreciated my parents’ welcoming of my friends – the interest they took in their lives, their desire to celebrate their achievements alongside my own. It’s pretty great to reach the old age of [almost] 42 and still have my mom inquire about the “girls” she fed at our kitchen table.

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