The other day, my twins, still 16, were heading out for their co-ed soccer game “Under the Lights,’ which means they were going to get to play where the regular competitive school soccer teams play, the ones who compete against the other high school varsity and junior varsity teams.
I am a mom who goes to all my kids’ events if I can. I always want my kids to know their mom is their number one cheerleader.
All of my five children have been involved in many activities over the years, from sports to piano to band to Boy Scouts to youth group and I go to as many of their performances as I can. Because I have a lot of kids, sometimes my husband and I have to tag team, juggle, switch off. He’ll go to one event of one of our children and I’ll go to a different one for our other children.
But right before this particular first co-ed “Under the Lights” soccer game, they said to me, “ Mom, can we just go alone? You really don’t have to go.”
I immediately said, “But, I like to go to all of your games guys.”
“But, don’t all the other parents come,” I say, secretively showing perhaps one of my other motives in going to the game is not wanting to be the only parent who doesn’t show up to their kids’ game (translated, meaning, loser parent).
And so I don’t. I realize at that moment, at that age in their lives, as they begin to become more and more independent, I need to let go little by little, and it’s okay; they are teenagers, they may want space, and I need to honor that.
So, while I so want my kids to know that I am there for them, that I support all of their activities, that I am their number one cheerleader, I also need to allow them as they become young men, to have some freedom. To just be with their peers.
I was talking to another soccer mom, Kate, about this the other day, asking her if she has been going to the Under the Lights games at the high school.
She said, no. I felt such relief, as I did not want to be that one parent who doesn’t show up to certain games while all of the other parents were there. I told her what my twins requested, that I not go, and she said, yeah, those under the lights games are the kids’ own thing, a little bit of their hang out time, just them, away from, let’s face it, sometimes hovering parents.
My twins turned 17 this week, and I had mentioned to them that I would like to take them out to lunch on their actual birthday. We already had dinner plans as a family that evening, and I was set to make them crepes for breakfast, which I do every birthday, and I also thought about taking them out for coffee before school.
This year, though, the day before their birthdays, they asked if they could just go out with their friends for lunch on their birthday. I could see, in the sensitive, half-hesitant way they asked, that they wanted to be careful to not hurt my feelings.
I offered that I could take their friends out to lunch as well, and we could all go together, but again, they said, in a very sweet way, “Can we just go alone?”
Oh, okay, of course, that sounds like fun, I say, while not showing that I am, if I am honest, a bit disappointed. Part of it has to do with my background and parenting philosophy of always honoring my kids’ special days, concerts, games, and events, to make sure they know I am there for them.
So, I pointed to the fact that we were going out to dinner as a family in the evening and that we could go out for coffee in the morning and that I’d make them crepes before we went out for coffee.
In working through all of these happenings and decisions, I realize that while my parenting philosophy includes wanting to be there for my kids, I also feel it is important to listen to my older children when they politely — or not so politely — ask for space to be independent. To begin to feel that independence, by hanging out with their peer groups.
We need to, I believe, slowly let go of the strings, as our kids get older. The middle teenage years are a big transition for our kids.
In middle school, pre-teen age, kids begin to test their wings, little by little. They want to go to the park alone, or walk to the neighborhood store by themselves or arrive at the bus stop sans mom or dad. As a parent, you begin to let that string out a bit.
My childhood friend Jeanie, who is not a parent but works with parents in her job as an educator, notes the difference in generations of parents. As children, we loved our time alone, to just “be” with our friends. Parents didn’t have to go to every game that we played in, getting together with our friends was spontaneous and not all activities were pre-arranged like today’s “play dates.” We just got together with the neighbor kids. Now, parents are at every practice, every game, every everything.
I tell my friend Jeanie that, as a child, my parents were the extreme of that less-involved generation of parents, and I later mourned the fact that they missed some important events of mine. Once in junior high I had the solo for a choir concert and no parents in the audience to smile at because they were at my sister’s event (which I understand, as I do not think my parents even considered doing something separately).
And I was sad that my parents missed my high school graduation due to travel plans in Germany, though I do not think I was sad at the time. It was as it was.
But, I think because of my childhood experience, as well as understanding that we, as parents, need to be our child’s number one cheerleader, I make every effort to be at every event of my children. Once, my daughter had a district track race and she had one of the top times going into both the 1500 and 800 meter races; while making my way to the meet, I came up against some traffic and the first race she was in started earlier than I had originally realized. When I arrived, the 1500 meters had just ended and my daughter had won.
Loser parent I was.
So, what did I do? I told her good race and when she asked if I saw it, I lied: “Yeah, I saw the end. Great job.”
Double loser parent.
I so desperately did not want my kid to feel like she was all alone and that no one cared, so I fibbed — and prayed she’d also win the 800 meters so I could at least see that race.
She did win.
There’s a balance when it comes to supporting our kids and their events. On the one hand, they sometimes say that I don’t need to come to this event or another event, and I’ve said, “Look, I want to see your concert,” or “Hey that is a big race, I’m coming,” or “Yes, this is a big game, I am going to come watch you.”
But, there are some other times when we need to give our teenagers independence. To allow our kids space. With their friends, peers.
Each child may be different when it comes to this. Some children may want us to be at every event, even through senior year in high school and beyond. My kids like it when I substitute teach at their schools, for which I am grateful.
So, when they want a little space, just to breath, apart from me hovering, I need to give them the space they need.
And, when those big events approach, I can insist, and say, “I’m going to be there. . . You’ll appreciate it later.”