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On Parenting
Posted at 02:52 PM ET, 08/23/2011

Back-to-school milestones celebrate a child’s independence

Earlier this week, I wrote about the hard time many of us parents have on the first day of school, the sadness we feel at watching our babies march away with their classmates into a school for the first time.

Many readers outed themselves on this. They wrote of trying not to hide tears behind sunglasses as they said good-bye to their children or, where school has yet to start, clinging to the last few days of summer. Other parents, however, reacted with a dismissive eyeroll to the parental clinginess.

One of the most eloquent of these reactions was from an Ellicott City mother. She wrote me an e-mail that explained why a child’s progression should provide parents with pure satisfaction. I am sharing her words, both as a counterpoint and also because they may help strengthen the resolve of the weaker-willed among us.

Here is Nicoline Smits take:

“You read them every year, the heartfelt columns about moms bawling their eyes out when they have to leave their 5-year-old behind in that horror chamber also known as a Kindergarten classroom. They wonder how that 6 lbs. 11 oz. baby managed to grow so inconsiderately big as to be able to do without mommy for several hours a day. Or the parents who can’t control their emotions when delivering their 18-year-old to their dorm room. Some even feel they must do additional penance by lugging the heaviest pieces of the latest in ridiculously expensive dorm room furniture and décor up five flights of stairs. In August. In the mid-Atlantic.

Call me heartless, but I have never shed a tear when my boys reached these milestones. Indeed, I looked forward to reaching them and continue to do so now that I am about to move my 18-year-old baby to a Midwestern apartment building where he’ll continue his education. He’ll lead his own life and may not even come home for Christmas. If he can figure out a way to do it, he may decide to stay in his new hometown next summer. And that’s fine by me. I never believed in keeping my kids tied to my apron strings.”

“When my oldest began his school career in America we had just moved to this country and he had not yet had time to learn English. He started school within a month, knowing exactly one word of English: bathroom. To the amazement of his teachers, who were not strangers to teaching foreign-born kids, he was fluent within three weeks. Over the years, I advocated for my kids when it was necessary, but I tried to let them figure out issues with teachers and missed assignments by themselves whenever possible. It’s good practice for real life.

After the oldest decided to go to university in his country of origin, his younger brother asked how it felt to have a kid leave home. He’d heard enough about the drama that ensues when parents say goodbye to their freshman that he thought of it as the natural course of events. But I answered him that his father and I had known since they were born — indeed, since before they were born — that they would some day leave our home and live their own lives. It is not only to be expected, it is what you work toward as parents.

Parenting is not just about loving your children and keeping them safe. It is also about getting them to a point where they can take their place in this world as adults. If a freshman is so unprepared for college life that a lack of quarters for the washing machine leads to panicky phone calls or relies on a parent to argue with professors about grades and assignments, I would say that parent has clearly failed to do his or her job.

Which is not to say I don’t worry about my college-age kids. The younger one currently drives me crazy with his laid-back attitude to the things that moving house entails. I’m letting him figure it out, as long as the basics (tuition, registering for classes and a room) are taken care of. Two years ago, I lost a considerable amount of sleep over my oldest’s failure to find a room in a densely populated country with a highly regulated — and therefore highly inefficient — housing market. A family member, afraid that his nephew’s homelessness might lead to having a teenage house guest for a year, managed to persuade the housing authority in the nick of time to giving him a room for a year. Other problems also cropped up, but my oldest managed to overcome them, sometimes with our help and sometimes without it. And that’s how come I can let go of that 6 lbs. 10 oz. baby boy I used to be able to carry on one arm without shedding a tear.

At back-to-school time, how are you feeling about letting go? Is it a tear-jerker or a moment of parental satisfaction? Or some mixture of both?

By  |  02:52 PM ET, 08/23/2011

 
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