It happens to all of us. At some point our children no longer need us to survive. Becoming obsolete as a parent is the ultimate goal, right? We all want our children to grow and thrive and succeed on their own. But for many parents, its also a silent fear. What most parents don’t realize is that it starts happening long before they ever expect it to. That’s what I want to explore today.
Parents know their job is to raise their children as best they can and send them off into the world. That is what its all about. The expectation is that this will happen when they head off for college, approximately 18 years after birth.
That seems like so much time. I mean, its almost two whole decades. And since many moms and dads are in their twenties or thirties when they begin having children, it seems like forever. A whole lifetime, because for them, it practically is.
So there you are, in the hospital, holding your newborn bundle of joy, and picturing how life is going to go for you and this little one. In what seems like a lifetime, you will send a perfectly behaved, well-mannered, responsible, well-rounded, book-smart, street smart, kind and thoughtful adult into the world to do great things. That is the expectation.
The reality of becoming obsolete as a parent is that it begins to happen way earlier. Personally, its something I never considered. But these moments keep sneaking up on me.
One day, your sweet newborn will grow into an infant, and no longer need you to rock them to sleep. At some point, your child will no longer need you for nourishment, because they no longer need to nurse. Your sweet baby will grow into a toddler. They will start to explore their independence. They will want to dress themselves, feed themselves, and play by themselves. You will start to become obsolete in a million little ways.
The first time that it really set in for me was earlier this year. My son started ice skating lessons. The first few weeks, he held onto either me or my husband like his life depended on it. Then, as he gained confidence, he began letting go. He still wanted us close, just in case, but he started to venture on his own. A few more weeks passed. I took him on the ice one Saturday morning, and he just skated away. He was off chasing his friends and playing. I stood off to the side of the rink. I was still on the ice, you know, just in case he needed me. He didn’t. Honestly, I could’ve left the country and he wouldn’t have noticed. Standing there alone on that cold rink, watching my little guy off on his own making friends and having fun, I realized it. I was obsolete now. He no longer needed me for ice skating.
That realization washed over me like a tidal wave. The emotions I felt in the moment ebbed and flowed like the sea. It was an intense moment, perhaps one of the most I’ve experienced thus far.
First there was pride. I was so proud of this little man. He was so brave, and independent, and social, and free. He had a courage I could only dream of. He’d worked so hard to develop the skill to keep up with the other children. Pure parental pride.
Then came the sadness. He was MY little boy. My baby. The only one I had. But he no longer needed me. Since he is my only child, I may have felt this a little more intensely than some. But I am certain all parents feel this to some degree. I was 50 feet away, but I missed him. I missed his little hand in mine. Missed the way he would look for me if he fell, and stretch his arm out for a hand up. These things we gone, and I felt that hole deeply.
The joy and the sadness swirled around me as I realized I was becoming obsolete in that moment.
Now, as much as I wanted at that moment to grab onto my baby boy and hold on forever, I knew I couldn’t. My job as a parent is to do exactly this. Support and help my child get to a place where they can be okay without me. At that moment, I realized I’d done it. I knew I’d gotten at least this one small part of parenting right. That’s when I let go. I turned and slowly skated off the ice, and took my place near the glass with the parents of older children. The other obsolete parents.
It was all right though. I stood there, watching my child have the time of his life, skating and playing with new friends. Letting go was something I didn’t want to do, but something I needed to do.
You’re Never Obsolete
Becoming obsolete as a parent is something that will happen again and again, in a million different ways as your child grows. There is no avoiding it. Its just life. We just need to do the best we can to prepare our children, and let go when its time.
However, I have also come to realize that as a parent, you will never be completely obsolete. Your children will always need you. Maybe not in big ways, but tons of small ways. Think of your own life. If you need advice, help with something, a place to stay, a parenting question answered… who do you want to talk to? I am betting the answer is your parents.
Becoming obsolete is both something that happens, and doesn’t. They outgrow us in many ways, but will always need us in others. Parenting never ends, it just changes with time.
Have you experienced any of these moments with your children? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.
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