It was just yesterday that we were bringing him home from the hospital, wondering whether we’d ever get a full night’s sleep or an uninterrupted shower again. Only, it wasn’t just yesterday. It was 18 years ago.
In fact, just yesterday, he asked if he could make the 5-hour trek north, alone, to pick up parts for a car he is restoring. After some wringing of hands, we said yes. After all, my husband noted, he is 18 and about to be off on his own. How is it that our baby isn’t a baby any longer?
In the last few weeks, as our son has voted for the first time, signed his own permission slip for a school trip, and successfully made the 10-hour round trip trek alone and unscathed, I have reflected on the time that has seemingly elapsed in a blink of an eye. Here are five things I realized when my son turned 18.
1. His love language is different.
The little boy who once loved to snuggle, hold my hand, and play games with me has been replaced by a nearly-grown man who winces when I come in for a peck on the cheek. But he shows love in other ways. He texts me to ask about something he’s thinking about. He washes my car when it is dirty. He wants to tell me about something he figured out on his car. And he still hugs his mom without asking. He still loves us, it just looks different than it once did.
2. Being parents and not friends was hard, but worth it.
I will admit it. We were “old school.” Our kids had to make their beds, do their own laundry and help with yard work at young ages. They had limits on video game playing. They learned to say please and thank you and have manners. They missed seemingly “big” events because they broke rules or exhibited bad behavior. Many days we felt like the “mean” parents on the block, especially when they (and we) saw their friends getting away with far more egregious actions. As our son has gotten older, we are so pleased that we followed through on being his parents and not his friend. This summer, he received a job promotion and was actually in charge of training men twice his age. He pays for his own gas and other activities without prompting. He has chosen good friends. In other words, he is responsible, and well on his way to being a good human.
3. Let them fail.
We have watched as our son has gotten his first speeding ticket, failed tests, and run out of money in his bank account. Our son knows that we won’t bail him out. He also knows that he can come to us to brainstorm solutions. Ticket on his record? He figured out how to do a deferral and is also paying for part of his insurance costs. Recently, he wanted to give up on a project car and let it go to the junkyard because he couldn’t get it to “run right”. We wouldn’t let him give up. We told him he couldn’t give up on the car because it was too hard or because it had constant leaks. We told him he had to figure it out. He got mad. He slammed doors. He huffed and he puffed. And then he got to work. Three months later, when he sold the car for thousands, the pride and self esteem he had was worth it, not only for him, but for us. Failing is part of life. Teach your kids that fact and how to find the solutions or opportunities that await them as a result.
4. Let them fly.
We let him make the 5-hour drive to Bellingham, Washington yesterday. He returned in one piece, beaming because of the great deals he scored on the car parts and the fact that he navigated Seattle’s busy traffic alone. But he also returned with pictures of a gorgeous side-drive he made on the way home, seeing sights he’d never seen. It is our job to let them expand their horizons so that they can see how far they can go.
5. He still needs us.
The boy who once needed me to hold his hand while we walked across the street or to help him put his shoes on the right feet still needs us. Big life decisions are being made, complicated relationships with friends must be handled with care, and he still needs to eat! A strong home base is where he will fly from, and also where he knows he can always land. Our guidance and love looks differently than it did just a few short years ago, but is more needed than ever.
I was once told when my kids were little that the days are long, but the years are short. I did not believe them. I could not see my baby as a 1st grader, let alone a 12th grader. But here we are today. It is bittersweet, as much as I want to keep him home, bake cookies, and watch Blues Clues, I know that my job is to ensure that he can live in the world as a good human, with or without me. When you’re lost in the mundane of every day, just know that all of the little things you do and show your kids really do add up. They are watching. They are paying attention. And on the day that they fly, you will be so proud of them... and of yourself. It is so worth it.
Tiffany Couch is the CEO and founder of Acuity Forensics, a forensic accounting and fraud investigation firm that helps unravel complex financial crimes. She is also married to her husband of 21 years and the mom of two teenage boys.