Tomorrow is my stepson’s 21st birthday.
We’ve known for a while this might happen. I suppose the previous 20 birthdays gave us a clue. Mind you, I only arrived on the scene in time for his sixth – perhaps that is why I don’t feel like it’s time for this yet. The thing is, I just don’t feel old enough to be the parent of a 21-year-old. Don’t get me wrong: I am not writing here to whine about age and growing older. If I had wanted to do that I would have done so a couple of weeks back when a rather startling flash of grey appeared above my right temple. (It’s OK, a pair of plastic gloves and a 35-minute waiting time took care of that. I am beginning to appreciate the advantages of being blonde.)
In fact it’s quite the opposite. I actually don’t feel old at all. I had thought this whole event of having a kid turn 21 would make me feel ancient but really I’m kind of having a private giggle because inside I don’t feel much older than that myself. It’s like I’m an impostor and I think it’s hilarious. I do the parental stuff and pretend to be a grown-up but inside I’m still wondering how I landed up as a parent-figure to two grown-up children.
Seriously: what the hell do I know? I still feel like I’m fumbling through my own life, how on earth do people expect me to be all guiding-light to these other young adults?
A friend – who also has a grown-up son – emailed me this week and something she said echoed an idea that had not yet fully formed in my own head. But now it has:
This is a new phase. It is time to stop taking care of them and let them go. This is when they get to step up and take responsibility for their lives. No more hand-holding, no more apron strings. They need to make their own mistakes and learn from them.
My own mother was brilliant. I honestly don’t recall her giving me a hard time about the decisions I made. I remember her offering an opinion and having her say, but it was kind of in a “This is what I think, but it is your life, you get to make the decisions” sort of way. Only now do I appreciate how hard that must have been.
So now we get to offer advice, but not tell them what to do. To match this, we have to stop doing things for them and leave them to learn to fend for themselves.
If my own experience is anything to go by, at some point they will realise that perhaps their parents do know one or two things and will come back with a new-found respect and appreciation. I look forward to that day.
Meanwhile, my most pressing thought is that I need to write something in his birthday card. I reckon “You’re an adult now, so act like one” doesn’t really send the right message. His dad has already stolen the ‘Proud’ sentiment.
Any suggestions are welcome.