79. Growing Up

Last week, you may have read my article about permissiveness/limit-setting. George Bush once got some laughs by announcing that he didn’t have to eat broccoli any more because he was President of the United States. I do like broccoli, and I’m not a Republican, but the guy did have a point. I sometimes don’t clear the breakfast dishes off the table until dinner time; I’m almost forty-eight years old, and no one can make me.
My parents seem to have accepted the fact that I am in control of my life, and I think I realize that my daughters are in control of their lives. But neither realization came easily. The
transition from the role of limit-setter to the role of serene, unobtrusive consultant can be rough. There are some parents who do it gracefully, but in my experience, most don’t.
Pre-adolescence and adolescence are the years when the transition is roughest. It sometimes seems to our daughters and sons that we see them as adults when it’s convenient for us. And to us, it seems as if they want to be treated as adults when it suits them. The same person who says, “I’m fourteen! I should be allowed to decide for myself!” may later say, “Come on! I’m only fourteen!”
Many cultures have rites of passage that indicate when a child becomes an adult. Mine defined me as a man at age thirteen. But I was somewhere in my late twenties when I started feeling that the definition really applied to me. I still forget sometimes. I’m going to a friend’s bat mitzvah soon (I almost wrote “two friends’ daughter’s bat mitzvah”) and I wonder at what point she will see herself as a woman.
When our children are young, their moves toward independence are more likely to delight us. The moment when the child learns where to excrete. The tying of the shoelaces. The first book read independently. We feel that we are doing it all right – we created or adopted and nurtured a human being, and we are doing our part to help build the future.
It’s not as easy to rejoice about some of the later milestones. For a while, I think I was unconsciously angry at my daughters for destroying the little children they once were, by growing up. I think my parents probably had similar difficulty seeing their children grow up. Now, when one of my daughters comes to visit, I see the child in her, see the adult, and love the person. Sometimes, I make a suggestion. That’s all. And she does the driving; I’m not as good a driver as I used to be.

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