At what age is my child no longer my problem? It’s hard to kick the mothering habit.
My son, who’s 19, was over an hour late coming home from work the other evening, so I phoned him to find out if all was well.
‘What are you doing?’ my friend asked, as I dialled.
‘Just calling to find out if he’s okay,’ I said.
‘Leave him alone!’ said my friend. ‘For all you know, he’s out jolling with friends!’
‘Yes, but for all I know, too, he’s been kidnapped and sold into slavery
. And anyway, I just want him to know that I care.’
‘He doesn’t want to know that you care! He wants to be a grownup! Stop mommying him!’
As it turned out, my son had been held up at work and was just leaving when he got my call – and he ended the conversation by saying, ‘Thanks for phoning.’
But my friend’s reaction made me think about this. When are our children ‘grownup’ enough for us to stop worrying about them – to stop mothering them?
When my kids were younger and I was concerned about how I constantly fretted about them – and more so when they weren’t actually with me, such as when they were at a sleepover or even just at school – I asked my late mother this question: ‘When do you stop worrying?’
‘Never,’ she said – and at that stage her four children
(my siblings and I) were aged from 30 to 38.
When I asked my friend Wren the same question, however, she said, ‘I don’t worry about them at all anymore.’ When I looked shocked (and perhaps a little envious), she said, ‘Oh, okay, I worry about them maybe 10% of the time.’ Her kids are 23 and 25.
The old ‘key to the door’ age was 21 – when I was a youngster, that was the big party, the giant send-off, the age your parents had to finally stop telling you what to do; and, arguably, the age, too, at which they could finally stop worrying about you.
But things have changed – kids nowadays are exposed to more societal pressures and dangers throughout their lives, and as a result take on more personal responsibility earlier and have to grow up more quickly.
My daughter, for instance, goes to university in another town. She has her driver’s licence and her own car and lives an independent and (as far as I can tell) responsible life. But she’s still only 18, and is a source of constant low-key panic for me. Every time she phones, I wonder if it’s going to be bad news. I’m not generally a pessimistic person, so this is obviously quite disturbing.
And sure, my son is an independent
wage-earner and a rent-paying lodger in my house, but he’s still my child first and foremost – I still worry that he has clean underwear, that he eats properly and gets enough sleep, and that he’s generally safe and happy. I try to do this subtly, of course, but it’s hard to get out of the habit when you’ve been a mother for almost two decades.
Read more by Tracey Hawthorne Is there an age when the parenting needs to stop?