Dog Days

600px-Black_Labrador_Retriever_portraitWhen I was a kid we had a sweet little black lab. Back in the day, spay/neuter wasn’t a thing so we got an education in the circle of life at a fairly young age. I remember watching the dog with her puppies and she was such a good momma. She would carefully oversee their play and if things got too rough she would swiftly and efficiently squelch the dispute or bad behavior or whatever was necessary. Her pups learned to be good dogs from their momma’s nip to the butt, sharp yip at bad behavior, or physically redirecting the baby from the situation.

As a mom, I was a firm believer in the quick correction. Bring the hammer down hard on the first offense with the hope that they would get the message and not make the same mistake again. Whether that was a swat to the rump, an extended grounding, or a ridiculously long lecture, my goal was to help them see the error of their ways and make better decisions, with the end result of them growing up to be independent, responsible, respectful members of society.

And then they grow up. The sweet little black lab forcefully pushes the babies away from her when it’s time for them to leave home. They move on and she’s no longer involved in their lives. This is where we differ. I didn’t have to push my babies away when it was time for them to leave. They were ready to go. Off into the cold world to fend for themselves, hopefully prepared for everything that was to come.

Early last weekend I got a call from one of my girls and she was in tears. She had made some poor choices and was in pretty deep trouble because of it. Completely avoidable trouble. And the momma hammer came down. The “how could you let it get this out of hand” “why didn’t you learn your lesson from x, y, and z” “how do you expect to be a part of an adult relationship if you can’t talk to your SO when you’re in trouble” lecture that I thought I was done with years ago. There was the reminder that she was an adult and Momma was not going to bail her out of her problems. How does one learn lessons if they are bailed out and not held accountable? There were tears from a daughter who was already beating herself up for her mistake. And I shouldn’t have brought the hammer down so hard.

After I got off the phone I was so distressed. Worried for this daughter and her future. Not a new worry. This has been a two year long worry at least. But here we were in a situation that I was afraid was coming, yet unable to control the outcome. The internal battle between running to her rescue versus letting her figure it out and learn a life lesson. I spent a busy weekend trying to not think about it. Trying to remind myself that she was an adult and could figure this out. Trying to not jump out of my skin. It didn’t work.

The stress of the situation invades my sleep.

I’m standing in a hallway and there’s a big door. I can hear my child sobbing on the other side, “No, no, please, no!” The door is locked and I am frantically throwing my body against it trying to get through to rescue her. All I can hear are her sobs. My desperation is palpable! I sit bolt upright in bed. I’m sweating. My heart is racing. In my fog I look around my room, confused at where I am, and the realization slowly sinks in that it was just a bad dream. I groggily lay back down willing myself to go back to sleep so that I can get back to her to protect her from everything that could harm her. The rest of the night was fitful sleep, restless wakefulness. The storms roaring outside did nothing to deafen the storm raging in my heart and head. That part of me that is furiously scrambling to save my child from pain.

As a mom, it is so hard to watch the children flounder. To stand on the sidelines and watch them struggle to become adults. To fix their own problems. To let them grow. To not interfere, because the reality is that by saving them, I am hurting them. And I can’t hurt them. The battle between my logical head and my emotional heart is a fierce one.

In the light of day the storm subsides a little. I have a conversation with my daughter that is not emotionally fraught. I spend the day offering advice when she asks for it. Hugging her when she begins to feel fragile.  Feeling a little more confident that the initial growl or swat or nip has not been in vain. I see her determination to make it right again. And for now, I’m satisfied that I have done my best at being a mom to an adult child.

9 thoughts on “Dog Days

  1. You know how you can tell you’re a good mama? They come to you when they need help. They know you’re going to lay the hammer down but they know you’re going to support them too. That’s the mark of a great mama.

  2. I second that! Beautifully written, Cristi! It’s a tough job–I’m not looking forward to difficult decisions that lie ahead for me with my own kiddos, but I also believe we had to do some degree of letting them fall and figuring it out to come out stronger on the other end.

    • One would think that it gets easier when they grow up and leave home. In some aspects, it does. But at other times…it’s worse. The mistakes that they can make as an adult have much more severe impacts than those that a child can make. For a control freak like me, having adult children can be difficult at times. 🙂

      • I’m a bit of a helicopter mom (um, control freak anyone?) myself, so I can see how the adult mistakes would be much harder to watch. Right now just guiding them through friendship problems are heart wrenching enough, thanks.

        Also, I’m a big boob because after I wrote your name on my comment I thought, erm, that’s not how she spells it, dopey! Sorry about that! 😛

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