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My Middle Child Was Born Ready to Run — So He Did, Away From Me

Nov 20, 2020

Oh great, more grieving! That was my reaction in the early weeks of the pandemic when I spotted a post on Twitter talking about grief. Psychologists were advising us to accept the loss of our old norms and daily schedules. If you asked people to shout out their emotions when we began physical distancing, I’m not sure grief would have been a chart-topper. There was just so much to process. As I unpacked the concept of mourning a regular connection, I realized grief had been following me around for a while.

I’ve recently watched parents pull their hair out trying to juggle the challenge of young children at home while working and helping with schoolwork. It’s stretched many to their limits and yet, I feel a twinge of envy. Here I am missing my two young adult children to the point my heart squeezes when I peek into their empty room.

While shopping with her tween daughter, Laura Mullin reflects how quickly her daughter is growing up. Read that here.

I coped fairly well when my first son moved away for school. I still have a teenage daughter at home, but I sensed a change when my middle child packed his bags and embarked on his big academic adventure. I’ve been in mourning ever since.

Why the second child and not the first and perhaps not even with the third? There is a truth buried in my parenting soul I’ve known all along. I don’t feel as needed by my middle child as I do with my other two. He was born ready to run. Once he passed the toddler stage of following his mommy around, he turned towards the rest of the world and decided it was an interesting place to explore. He’s always enjoyed trying new things and often problem solves on his own. These are wonderful traits but selfishly, as he was growing into a young man, I wished he leaned on me more. If I’m honest, I wanted more input and control in shaping him.

"Not surprisingly, the children who are least like you often teach you the most about yourself."

When he was eight, we had daily heated battles about getting out the door to school on time. My rules were simple: he was to make his bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush his teeth and get his backpack ready at the door — in that order. He fussed and whined every morning for months until I attended a parenting conference. I approached the keynote speaker and shared my dilemma. She said let him get ready in the order he wants. There’s still the expectation he’s to be on time, but by letting him decide when to do each task, you’re giving him a sense of control. I made the change the next morning and he was never late for school again — ever.

Control is something I’ve been thinking a great deal about. There is no better time to embrace one of life’s certainties — we have a lot less control than we think. The experts say the best way to cope with change is to stay flexible and adaptable. My second son has challenged me to adapt my parenting style more than the other two combined. His personality has encouraged me to look at my need for control and uber connection. He requires space and autonomy — basically the opposite of me. Not surprisingly, the children who are least like you often teach you the most about yourself.

Karen Horsman writes about how parents can protect their kids from almost anything — except from a broken heart. Read that story here.

When he left for school, I somehow felt I’d lost him. He was talking about international work placements and other exciting opportunities that would allow him to stretch his wings. It’s our job as parents to raise independent, kind and capable human beings, so what the heck was I complaining about? I’m proud of him AND I want to be needed. Two truths, both valid. So, what have we experimented with over the years to maintain a strong relationship? Good communication, patience and difficult conversations.

I’m the first to admit, I often go in hot with all my emotions demanding he tell me what’s going on with him or to text me more, but we’ve become excellent at talking to each other. We work hard on meeting each other halfway. I try to give him the space he needs, and he is stepping up to connect with me more. It’s a healthy work in progress. Grieving my changing role as a mother is slowly allowing me to explore a deeper connection with my adult children — especially with a boy who was born ready to run and chart his own path.

Article Author Karen Horsman
Karen Horsman

Karen is the former national parenting columnist for CBC. She is the mother of three and working in the field of corporate communications.

Sharing stories and learning from others is at the centre of Karen's world. When she isn't writing or connecting with fellow adventurers, you can find her walking a local forest with her amazing puppy.

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