My sweet child turned 18 a few weeks ago. EIGHTEEN. Whoa.
This post is about what she has taught me about boundaries and permission. (I know that every child is different but I want to share what I have learned about parenting this teen.)
Back in December, my oldest daughter came home from her art gallery youth council meeting just after 8:30pm at night. She plopped herself down beside me on the couch and got into her customary cuddle position. Our conversation went something like this:
Her: “The council meeting was great. I am really getting along with this group. They all went out for sushi after the council meeting. I thought about going but I knew you would want me home.”
I gave her a puzzled look and shook my head. I was confused and started to wonder if I was losing my memory because I didn’t remember ever telling her that I wanted her home right after the council meeting.
Me: “Don’t take this the wrong way but I didn’t need you home. You could have gone out. You know, you will be 18 in a few months. And the time is coming that you won’t need to ask me for permission. I hope that you will let us know your plans out of courtesy but permission is another thing. In fact, when you turn 18, the biggest thing that changes for us is that you will no longer need my written consent to travel without your father and I.”
She sat quiet for some time. This information had taken her off guard.
Her: “But what does this mean? That’s it? I can’t come to you or dad? But what if I don’t know what to do. What if I can’t make the decision on my own. What if I am not ready to leave childhood yet?”
I held her tightly, holding back my emotions.
Me: “Of course, this isn’t ‘it.’ Dad and I will always be here for guidance and advice whether you like it or not. We will always be available but at some point, I won’t be right there with you to help you make a decision and you and I will both need to trust ourselves. I have to trust that I have gotten you this far and that you will be ok no matter what and I have to trust that you are on your own path. You have to trust that you know what you need and that wherever you go and whatever you do, you are there because that is YOUR path that you need to walk. And you have to trust that we will never stop loving you, no matter where your path leads you.”
And we cuddled some more and ever since then, I have watched my daughter take action in her own life. I have watched her move towards more and more independence while truly valuing what I have to say.
We have our moments still. She exerts her opinion and I react impulsively without truly listening to what she is saying behind the defiance and the changing mind. For both of us, we are still trying to distinguish between that nervous feeling that is associated with fear and that instinctual feeling of changing direction.
Sometimes it is that same gut feeling that makes us both want to puke.
I often sit back and wonder how I arrived at this relationship with my daughter – open, full of mutual respect, and a love that has liberated both of us.
And I think it comes back to the act of permission.
The age of majority in our province is 18.
According to wikipedia, here is what the age of majority means:
“The age of majority is the threshold of adulthood as it is conceptualized (and recognized or declared) in law. It is the chronological moment when minors cease to legally be considered children and assume control over their persons, actions, and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of their parents or guardian over and for them. Most countries set majority at 18. The word majority here refers to having greater years and being of full age; it is opposed to minority, the state of being a minor. The law in a given jurisdiction may never actually use the term “age of majority” and the term thereby refers to a collection of laws bestowing the status of adulthood.”
Developmentally, I think 21 is a more appropriate age of majority. However, I have to accept that this is what our society deems the beginning of adulthood so we have to adapt and have tried to prepare our daughter for what this means.
What does this mean to have control over their own person? As I sat and thought about this, I reflected on how we have parented over the last few years to get to this moment. It was a gradual handing over the controls.
We give permission to our children every moment of every day, especially if you have littler folk. They ask for routine things – if they can have a snack, go outside to play, and sometimes make orange juice from scratch (cringe) which I just agreed to but am ignoring the sounds of splat on the kitchen floor as I type this. As they get older, the “asks” get more complicated and as a parent, you constantly have to look at your child at who they are and what they are capable of and weigh your yes’s and no’s very carefully. They ask to go out on their own. They ask to read a more mature piece of literature or watch a film that may not be in their best interests to watch. They ask to be untethered from you and you decide how much slack to give.
This is a dance that I sometimes get right and sometimes I am all left feet getting tangled in the rope that I tried so effortlessly to rein in or let out. (And it can get even more dicey for the dads.)
For the last 5 years, I have signed consent forms for my eldest to travel. We go to the same notary public. I call him up and he knows the drill. My husband and I climb the narrow set of stairs to a tiny windowless office at the back of a building situated on a busy street near our home. We banter with him about where my daughter is headed this time and how fortunate she is and how nervous a parent can get. We pay him a nominal fee. With one little piece paper, I have given permission for my daughter to explore the world without me. It is one of those difficult letters to sign. She carried this piece of paper with her as a safety net through her travels and as a vote of confidence from her number one fans.
This type of permission has set her free. This type of permission, after setting so many boundaries for so many years for safety reasons, has been crucial to her finding her own way. It’s not a “Yes, do whatever you want and what makes you feel good,” type of permission. It’s a “I know that you are ready. You’ve got this.”
I set clear boundaries for my children as they are growing up. I set them because we live in a world where we need to learn to co-exist with others. They will live in communities where no one wants to live next to a jerk who can’t be considerate and feels entitled to voice their opinion regardless if it hurts the feelings of others. I believe in non-violation. You can do what you need to do as long as you are not violating others and this doesn’t necessarily mean physical aggression. It means with words, intentions, and the very way you think about the person in front of you. I am still working on it and my kids are full witness to my own limitations, especially when I am driving in city traffic. They keep me accountable and we can have honest discussions about how I could have been a better neighbour and fellow human citizen showing a little bit more compassion along the way but also how I have the right to walk away from people that violate my sense of well-being.
Here’s the interesting part. Between the years 12 and 15, my boundaries didn’t slacken. I didn’t let them do whatever they wanted, slapped my hands together and rested because I was done. My parenting muscle was flexed even more. I find that my children need me even more to be certain about where I stand on things as they figure out where they stand. They may disagree with me and but they know that they can safely explore other avenues. I hold on tightly when I need to hold on to – when they are flailing and they just need to do so in the safety of arms that love them. I was reminded over and over again that they still needed to feel safe knowing that I was unwavering in my love no matter what they did or said.
And then from 15 to 18 years of age, I hardly ever said no. I can’t remember a time when my daughter came to me and asked to do something and I said no. We talked a lot about consequences of actions and safety as she began to travel abroad without us but within a controlled group situation. It really is impossible to act entitled and spoiled when travelling with a group who are helping others. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It opened my daughter to interacting with the outside world with compassion and authenticity. Seeing Filipino children, who share the same ancestry, but who don’t have the same access that she does, changed her when she was 15. Imagine that knowledge.
After that experience, my permission granting became a means of supporting her using her own voice and carving her own path. It is allowing her to be whoever she is today and having an unshakeable faith in my child. This faith has changed my own life. It is understanding that real love doesn’t constrict or restrict – it sets you free to be whoever you need to be even if it is a “high school dropout” that wants to travel the world.
You see, I have found that when my husband and I follow our own dreams and live our lives authentically and be unapologetic about our choices, even if they end up not working out how we planned, we give permission for all of our children to do the same. As we allow ourselves to dream and leap big, they do too. It is such a beautiful thing to see. As my daughter plans her trip to Italy, she has never doubted that she would go, working hard to save all year. Even as she has struggled to find a job and doubted herself, she is saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes her way and even creating some pretty fantastic ones too. She was able to volunteer on an incredible cacao farm, Caribeans, on her trip to Costa Rica and help take care of children in the neighbourhood too.
She is the product of our grand homeschooling experiment that began when we pulled her out of middle school. I read one book that changed everything. It changed the way I was going to approach parenting adolescence. It changed what I wanted for my children. We have had our ups and downs. We gave our permission to go to high school to try it out, and when that experiment epically failed, she complained about it for awhile. That was the moment that I wanted to give in to what was easy, to give her what she wanted – the social life, the norm, the feeling of belonging to something. But we didn’t give in. We wanted her to find her way in this world without the pressure of peers and testing. But I didn’t leave her completely alone to wallow and watch netflix all day. I presented opportunities for her and suggested she take advantage of them. She apprenticed with a theatre group and although she decided that wasn’t for her, she made a life long friend along the way. She joined the youth council for our art gallery which spawned so many wonderful experiences and interactions with art and the city. We wanted her to interact with the community and to travel. She was reluctant and angry but we pushed.
And today, she is grateful we didn’t give in. We didn’t let go.
As my daughter launches herself and continues to question, I tell her one thing over and over again.
It’s ok to not know.
There is nothing I can tell her anymore that she hasn’t seen for herself watching us and experiencing it as a part of our family and on her own.
But this is what I hope she remembers:
It is in the unknown that magic and miracles happen. It is the feelings of appreciation and gratitude that gets you through the rough patches and that whisper the secrets of happiness. It is in having faith that everyone is a teachER or a teachING where you can find the truth. It’s ok to make the grandest of mistakes and failures because you will look back and be surprised that they actually weren’t mistakes or failures after all but the greatest lessons that lead you to where you needed to be. It is leaning into light and love and not fear where the answers will find you and you won’t even have to seek them. The questions are enough. And that we will always be here to remind you to give yourself permission to delight and dance in them.
No matter how far you travel, our hearts are connected through a special gateway of light. It is connected outside of space and time. And wherever we are, we connect with love. A love that truly liberates both of us.
Thank you for teaching me more about parenthood and to trust myself as a mother more than any book or other resource available. Thank you for giving me permission to forgive myself for all the things that I thought I never gave you and for all the ways that I thought I failed you. You are amazing simply because you choose to be YOU.