Learning to Let Him Go

norcalfootball2016

Today Teen drove away with friends to cheer on their high school football team in the state championship (Go, Campo Cougars!). Four hours away, in a city they’ve never visited. They’ll stay together in a hotel, arranged by another parent. They’ll return home tomorrow.

It makes me a little nervous, honestly. There will be plenty of adults at the game, but no chaperones at the hotel. A group of teenage boys staying alone overnight…what could go wrong?

But he’s a good kid. He turned 18 last week and he’s off to college in nine months where, obviously, he will have unprecedented freedom. I’ve got to start letting him go sometime.

My parents were overprotective of me and I respected them for it. And I still found a way to occasionally make questionable choices. So my instinct is to overprotect my kid, which he hates because he is way more wired for risk-taking than I am. All the more reason to overprotect, right?

I have to trust him. I have to demonstrate to him that I believe he is worthy of my trust. I have to trust that we’ve done the best job we could raising a responsible young adult. I have to trust that God is looking out for him.

Deep breath, mama. He’s gonna be fine.

Two years ago he asked to go to a rave. I’ve never been to a rave, but I’ve heard more than enough bad about them. He was so determined that I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t go regardless of our prohibition. So we put a range of protections around him, including logical consequences: an early morning bike ride with his uncle—an adventure to anticipate!—would be so much fun if he wasn’t hung over and terrible if he was, for example. He didn’t drink, and he enjoyed both concert and biking. We found a way to give him what he wanted and satisfy our parental concerns.

Two Halloweens ago, he told us he was going to a party about which we’d heard neighbors had contacted police in advance. We asked him not to go. We were with friends down the street when we heard the sirens. We walked to the house, texted Teen, to which he replied: “Busy.” Paramedics rolled out a stretcher with an intoxicated girl strapped to it. Teen walked next to her until she was in the rig, then turned back to talk to police and the home owner. We stood across the street and watched as our son held a mature discussion with adults.

Turns out he hadn’t had one sip to drink. Instead, when a girl arrived already drunk, he appointed himself her caretaker. He tried to get her to go home. When she refused, he parked her on a couch and got her water. When police, and then paramedics, arrived and she tried to fight them off, he convinced her to go with them peacefully.

Another night he returned from being out with friends and flopped on my bed. “Have I got a story!” he exclaimed. Teen was driving his friends when they witnessed a bad car accident. He pulled over to call 911 and see if he could help (good Eagle Scout!). Fortunately, no one was hurt, but both drivers were badly shaken. They emerged from their cars shouting at each other. Teen separated them. He then talked with each individually, calming them and waiting with them until police arrived. His friends sat in the car, disgruntled at Teen’s good deed-doing because he made them wait. Teen cared more about doing the right thing and less about what his ticked off friends thought.

He doesn’t always make good choices, of course, developing teen brain and all. One night he returned home later than we’d asked but still early, 10pm-ish. He didn’t say a lot, went to his room, and Guy assumed he’d gone to bed. Mom-suspicion sent me to check on him, where I found windows open (under closed curtains) and pillows under bedcovers, topped with stuffed lion mane on the pillow, a nice touch to simulate his own curly-coarse hair. I threw the lion at Guy (feeling betrayed that Teen used my lion-gift to deceive me—and frustrated that I was simultaneously impressed with his creativity) who immediately called him to Come. Home. NOW!

We heard the story over days, in a less-than-effective shouting match, then debate, and finally, calm and cool discussion. He’d left his hat in his friend’s car; the car was low on gas and Friend didn’t want to come back up our cul-de-sac; so Teen hopped out his window to meet him on the main road. Once out, Friend asked if he wanted to stay out, as he didn’t have to be home until 1am. They’d only gone a few blocks when Guy called and Friend was forced to waste gas driving Teen home again.

Meanwhile, I did my own research, asking friends with high schoolers about their curfews. I thought 10:30-11pm seemed reasonable; apparently, that’s early. The football guys (Teen started high school as Football Guy before giving his all to rugby) regularly stay out until 1am on Fridays/Saturdays. Teen didn’t approach the conversation well, but we weren’t listening well, either. We had to listen to his actions to learn to let go.

We’re learning. As a student, Teen’s primary job is learning. My primary job (not the paycheck, the vocation) is parent; I get to be a student of my children, fascinated by their unique temperaments, personalities, and strengths/weaknesses. I have a Master’s Degree focused on Adolescent and Family Ministries, and yet there’s no class on “Teen Ricketts.” Some days I don’t even want to learn to let him go, and yet I want to launch him well. This learning may come harder, yet it’s that much more important.

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