When I was growing my first born, I thirsted for all the information I could lay my hands on to make sure I offered her the best start in life. I spent every spare dollar on books and read all of them from cover-to cover. I pored over, What to Expect When You Are Expecting, The Rhythm of Life and Positive Affirmations for Pregnancy and Birth. I hung off every word Dr Christopher Greene had to say, downed blueberries, folic acid and raspberry leaf tea like there was no tomorrow, all because the ‘experts’ said I should.
During the pre-school years I pounced on Melbourne Child warm off the press and could recite Toddler Taming by heart. I continued to seek every piece of information and advice from friends and professionals alike, as my children transitioned through all their ‘firsts’ – first sleepovers, first day of school, first menstruation - right up until I attended seminars on, Parenting an L Plater & Surviving VCE. Of course, I didn’t take heed of all the advice some of it was too difficult and some of it was just plain ridiculous! I couldn’t see the sense in reading advantage for 3 year olds and I certainly wasn’t going to disguise vegetables in desserts. I cherry picked the pieces that worked for my family, and with the guidance of all those experts, mostly we bumbled our way through. So when my 18 year old announced she was off to live in New York City to attend Acting School, (after picking myself up off the floor) I decided to turn again to the experts to guide me through parenting, but this time, an independent young adult.
There wasn’t necessarily a shortage of Empty Nest literature, but the advice was pretty universal, “Get a life!” Well that was well and good, I already had a life, a thriving private practice, friends and family to travel and socialize with and 2 gorgeous dogs (one that belonged to said daughter!) that demand my time, but what was I to do about this aching hole in my heart? I missed my daughter so badly it hurt.
Oh dear, what had I done? I’d fostered independence and celebrated her for being true to herself and to her dreams. I’d reminded her enough times that she is responsible for her destiny and to welcome opportunity. And what did she do? She listened! Seized the day and embarked on a great life adventure. Now while others tell me how proud I must be, I envy them their Mother/Daughter time, their chats over coffee, and their weekends away. I ponder how to stay connected to her during these years as she really transitions from girl to woman. As her Mother, I feel short-changed. I haven’t finished yet; I have plenty more to say!
And as I lay in my bed Facetiming her at 2am, (during her lunch hour at school) I realize it is my daughter who can guide me how to navigate this new parenting frontier. I just have to allow her to. I still cry myself back to sleep sometimes after we hang up but then I sense I am no longer hanging up from my little girl but rather a capable young woman that now shares my joys and sorrows while I continue to share in hers. And as much as I treasured baking muffins together for class parties and receiving burnt toast and cold tea in bed on Mothers’ Day, there is something equally heart-warming and precious about this next chapter in our relationship. When my eldest sends me an encouraging text on the morning of an important presentation or posts a photo of a curry on Instagram with the hashtag #notasgoodasmum’s, I remind myself that times may have changed but the love between us is the same and maybe, if I am open to it, the connection woman-to-woman runs even deeper in its unexpected reciprocity.
Reflection - "What have your children taught you?
( Specialising in working with children & adolescents, Megan Rees, works from her practice The Grove Counselling, located in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda East .)
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