The things I didn’t do for you

The key to raising a capable young adult is less in what you do, and more in what you don't.

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We are in interesting times. Boywonder graduated high school in June. He started a new job, while juggling the old job, and he starts classes at a university this fall.

He is still helpful, respectful and sweet (knock wood). He’s also a legal adult, so the need for us to micromanage his every move is significantly less. He checks in because in the wise words of my mother, “I’m not running a flophouse or a hotel.”

Still, I admit I’m riding high on the reality of an honor roll Eagle Scout, who is a willing-and-able hard worker and managed to graduate without ever getting a detention or giving us any real trouble at all. I’m sure I’ve jinxed it now. He’s probably on a crime spree.

Not rocket science

As the mother of a bona fide fully minted adult, I have had friends with younger children ask me how one raises a Boywonder.
First, let me say I know plenty of my friends have done it too. It’s not exactly rocket science. Sure there isn’t a “What to Expect When You’re Expecting the Teen Years,” but I think once you have the basics of feeding and watering them down, the key to raising a capable young adult rides less in what you do, and more in what you don’t.

As Boywonder prepares for college and reaches adulthood, I am reminded that if we are truly blessed we are not raising “children.” We are raising future adults.

To my lovely children, I give to you this essay.

Things I didn’t do for you

When you were old enough to go away to camp, I didn’t call you every day, come early to visit, or send overflowing care packages that implied I didn’t trust the camp — or you — to make it through the week. I did this because I wanted you to know you can do it.
I didn’t intervene when the coach chewed you out in front of everyone. I was plenty angry — like Mama Bear Mad. I took deep breaths, vented to your dad and didn’t let you think it was a bigger deal than it was. I wanted you to know you can survive embarrassment.
I didn’t come defend and speak for you when you had a minor fender bender in a parking lot (your fault, but an accident). I advised you over the phone that you matter, the car didn’t and let you handle the details yourself. I wanted you to know you could handle accidents calmly and ethically.
Handling the tough times. When you were bullied at school, I advised you to take dates, times and facts to the principal. I didn’t go for you. I didn’t march in and demand the bully be taken care of. I did tell you that you had my permission to handle it if the school didn’t. Fortunately, they did. What I wanted you to learn was that you had the ability — and the right — to stand up for yourself. And you did.

As you learned to walk, then run, further afield, I didn’t stop you from climbing, jumping, running, diving and kissing the dog — and maybe even a first love — on the lips. I wanted you to learn to assess risks, make good choices and feel the thrill of reasonable risk and freedom with the safety net of loving parents.  I wanted you to know that life is not without risks, but that if you use your head you are good.
More recently, I didn’t set “bed times” when you were nearly a grown adult. I quit insisting you wear a jacket because I was cold. I let you learn to cook. At some point, you need to know if you are cold, tired, hungry or about to be. You also need to learn to be able to do something about that.

Lessons learned

This is why I didn’t stop you from pulling an ill-conceived all-nighter. I let you be your own walking dead in the morning. That long slog of a day was worth more than all the mama words could say.

I didn’t micromanage your athletic, academic or scouting career. I supported, but did not do for you.

I wanted you to know you had the ability and the drive to do it yourself.

I will always love you. I will support you. From the bottom of my heart, I also pledge to remember what a wise friend told me: “Healthy birds leave the nest.” I’m pretty sure the mama bird gives them a lot of love, a little nudge and stands back and let’s them fly.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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