Kristin Kowalski Ferragut
Adjusting to Parenting a Young Adult: Looking to Spring Flowers for Guidance
Updated: Apr 23, 2021
I feel like shifting blog focus for a moment from my reviews and interviews. So I’ll share some musings about the season and my children. Not about writing or poetry, but my children inform much of my atmosphere in relation to both, and everything, so it’s not far off. Our home is steeped in creativity and stories. I often picture our lives, individually and together, as performance art. Really, it’s all poetry.
Always surprised by the abundance of bright forsythia blossoms on the heels of winter, I’ve come to love them as harbinger of better days, the first domino to fall in an incredible chain of exploding colors. They’re typically gone before I think to capture their beauty in a photo, as happened this year. Then the cherry blossoms come. Some years I go out of my way to pay them proper devotion (trekking to the Tidal Basin with kids in tow, forcing an Easter bike ride at the Arboretum, taking days off from work…). Some years, like this one, I fail to appreciate them sufficiently, so miss them with a twinge of regret. But then, every year, to save the day, come the azaleas!
Azaleas poke through the fence from my neighbor’s backyard. Last year the condo’s landscaping company tried to cut them back. It was one of the inadvertent benefits of the quarantine that I was home to ask them to please let them sprawl. They ring in the beginning of birthday season, mine, which is thankfully immediately eclipsed by that of the wonderful Coley, then that of the magnificent Ethan. For the kids, we usually have two to three week long birthday extravaganzas! This year, Coley will be 18 and Ethan will be a teenager (13)!
Some of those years… Well, everyone says to appreciate every moment because “It goes too fast.” Probably most people are in the “Life’s too short” camp. I’ve been in the “Life’s long” camp as long as I can remember. Not that it’s “too” long, although there’ve been plenty of moments in which it’s felt that way, but it has the potential to be filled with so much, it feels at times as though this “one wild and precious life”* is multiple lifetimes, at least to me. But of lives I’ve led, this parenting of children is one that has felt too short. Although, the 17 year old is not yet over me and the 12 is still giving me hugs, so I still have time. Just taking stock.
I struggle to balance much, this is fairly constant. But am finding these days part of that struggle is as much in trying to get my head around what’s right as the actual doing of things.
Babies were hard for me, I admit not proudly. Wildly cute and smelled so good, but too fragile and can’t tell you a Goddamn thing — a little scary. Guess being a bit prone to worry didn’t help. I was relieved when they hit eight or nine months and rocked making all kinds of toddler-fun! (Maybe something about my mental age.) I loved creating adventures the sort of which excite young children’s imaginations. And although I regret that “Let’s go get ice cream,” no longer made everything better, I’ve loved the tween years, with interesting exploration and the start of nuanced conversations. It’s so cool to watch them start to form their own tastes and appreciations for music. And then I get to learn new stuff too. But now, I’m almost feeling like I’m back in baby territory in terms of worry. It’s not due to lack of communication, thankfully we’re pretty open with each other. Perhaps it’s because I doubt myself at every step.
My kids aren’t rebelling. They’re way better kids than I was at 12 or 17! But they have their own independent lives, much of which are virtual, much of which I don’t understand. They’re sometimes patient in teaching me and other times I hear their eye-rolls loud and clear. They seem most comfortable with my giving them space, monitoring from afar, trying to be available when they’d like, although that sometimes feels wrong. I’m comfortable bugging my boy at will. But parenting an 18 year old…! Well, it feels like it’s going to take some time to catch up with myself; catch up with her!
But I don’t have time. She’s 18 in two weeks!
It makes me anxious like cherry blossoms. Beautiful, fortunate to bear witness, but will I fit in enough appreciating before she’s off to a whole new self? She plans to stay home for a year or two of college, but still speaks of moving out almost every day. I’m glad she’s excited to launch into an independent life and incredibly thankful she’s capable enough to do so, but just thinking about it starts the waterworks.
I feel as though our relationship is fragile like it’s never been. Children estrange themselves from parents and missteps at this age seem a fairly common setting event for that. While I experienced a great deal of clarity while parenting young Coley — what to teach, how to tip the scales on rough school days to on balance give her a fun life, when to lay back and when to help her out — these days I second-guess most interactions: remind her about the test? bring up the learner’s permit exam again or is that nagging? ask her to help with chores when she plans to Art? (I lean heavily towards honoring the latter but “plans” as we all know often get waylaid anyway.) I’m rarely sure of the best option.
I had a wonderful psychology teacher at Montgomery College that described the defiance and ensuing battles with teenagers as what seemed, in her opinion, to be an evolutionary development to ensure that when children are ready to leave home, parents will be fine with them going. It made sense, but that’s not happening here. I’m grateful. But also uncharacteristically tentative to ensure that resentment and distance does not become our dynamic.
Recently she pulled back from talking to me a bit. She doesn’t want me to worry about her, to get upset if she’s sick or miserable for a spell, to internalize her problems. I totally get it. No one wants a miserable parent. But that’s to swallow deep reserves of empathy for one of my favorite people ever. Not easy. Little Coley would’ve never asked that. I’d feel her pain then fix it, help, or at least tilt those scales. Being a sounding board is a very different role. Nothing to begrudge in any of this. Just hoping I’m up to the challenge to adjust quickly to this new dynamic.
She’s still a minor for a little while, about as long as cherry blossoms bloom. I think I’m going to wake her now and ask her to help me paint some walls. I don’t know about kids, but I know one of my favorite things as a parent is when my kids ask me for help. Maybe she’ll be glad I did?
There’s never angst when azalea blossoms fall. By then we’re deep enough into beautiful weather most days, being outside is a treat for countless reasons.
*From Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day
For more thoughts on Springtime and birthdays, check out my Mabel Ferragut Smith’s wonderful musings at https://mabelferragutsmith.com/flower-shop-birthday/ Although I’ve had these thoughts for awhile, I read her post before drafting mine and am sure it offered inspiration.