Foster Independence: Don’t Fix The Pain

Foster Independence

The hardest thing in the world is to know your child is in pain, and walk away. While it applies to anyone you love, really, it’s especially hard when it’s your own kid. And yet, sometimes, the best thing you can do is absolutely nothing.

My daughter had to have her wisdom teeth removed, recently. Adding insult to injury, she flew into town at 10:00 at night in order to make it to the dentist at 10:00 the next morning. Talk about a cruel joke.  If that wasn’t hard enough, her Dad was out of town, and I had to be at a long-standing work commitment at 9:00am, ready to spend the day teaching and basically out of reach.

Clearly, the circumstances were not optimal.

But we rallied the village. Her Aunt was taking her to the doctor, and her grandmother was meeting her there and would spend the rest of the day with her. On the one hand, she was on her own. On the other hand, she was never alone.

As I sat on the side of her bed at 8:00am, running my fingers through her short, spiky hair, I wanted nothing more than to cancel my plans for the day. I wanted to be there for her. Eighteen or not, she’s still my baby. But as I gazed into the worried look in her face, I realized that it would be better for her; if I would just walk away and go to work.  Oy, the truth hurts!

This year has been all about helping my pseudo-independent teenager learn to manage the challenges of her life with less and less input from me. Sometimes it’s been about ‘forcing’ her to coordinate her own logistics, or direct herself through LA traffic (no small feat).

At other times, it’s been about managing the emotional roller-coaster of the teenage existence. (Now that she has a social life, it’s a whole new world to navigate!)

In circumstances too numerous to name, I’ve pulled back, empowering her to fumble through life to her own successes, one little victory at a time. She hasn’t always been pleased with me at first, but in each instance I tend to notice a moment of acknowledgment, that glimmer of recognition when she realizes that I’m not going to do it FOR her, I’m only going to support her through doing it for herself.

Wow, it’s hard! For both of us. But it’s just what she needs. And it takes every ounce of self-restraint to give it to her. I think it’s one of those great tests of parenthood. Seriously, can you be self-less enough to do what’s best for your child by NOT helping, NOT doing, NOT rescuing?! Geez, this was DEFINITELY not in the baby handbook!

So I looked at her face on the morning before her surgery, and I knew that she would rise to the occasion with her Aunt and her Grandma.

My presence would certainly give her a shoulder for her anxious worries. Without it, she would muster the maturity to walk into a dentist’s office and take care of herself. With that under her belt, in the future she’ll be able to take herself to the gynecologist, or the breast care doctor. She’ll own her health care in a way that she never did when I was the one signing all of the paperwork.

Ultimately, THAT is what she needs to learn to do, more than anything else. She did rise to the occasion, by the way. Chipmunk cheeks notwithstanding, she crossed through another rite of passage, this time a step more independently than the last. She’s not terribly happy – but then, she just had her wisdom teeth removed!

Meanwhile, did I rush home that afternoon, as soon as I was free, to make chicken soup and egg salad, and nurture my daughter back to health? You bet I did. I massaged my remaining guilt with a bowl of coffee ice cream – which even brought a smile to her eyes, so worried only hours before.

Bottom line: my daughter made it through a difficult ordeal on her own emotional fortitude, and I made the difficult choice not to rescue her from (all of) her pain. Once again, I’ve danced on that delicate ridge with my daughter, who is both child and adult. I’ve fostered independence for us both, and we are, each of us, better for it.

Only one thing left to say: pass the coffee ice cream!




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