When my daughter was two, a friend of mine said, “our job as mothers is to prepare our children to live in the world.” I remember when I heard this my heart broke a little bit. I didn’t want to let my little girl go. And I still don’t. But now she’s sixteen and my job to ready her launch is more critical than ever.
Parenting a teenager through a pandemic and then watching them enter back into the big bad world is one of the most harrowing, unmooring experiences I’ve had as a parent. During the pandemic, my daughter was isolated, lonely, depressed, and unmotivated. I worried about her mental health on a daily basis. But I knew where she was all the time.
And now she is vaccinated. All of her friends are vaccinated. She is free. They are free. My daughter has a car and can drive wherever she wants. She went from having no options to infinite possibilities. And I am scared shitless.
Being a mother is like being a shepherd. I am charged with the responsibility of guiding my daughter safely through life until she is on her own. During the pandemic everyone was on the same path — staying close to home, protecting ourselves and each other from the big bad wolf that was Coronavirus.
Now the wolf is not as strong, it is not an imminent threat and we can all roam the pastures without worry. But as the shepherd I know there are other predators to my little sheep. My daughter is not at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 like she was two months ago but there are other wolves. For a mother, there are always wolves — lechy men who look at my daughter when she fills her gas tank, parties with alcohol where kids lose their senses, drunk driving, peer pressure, social media, eating disorders. I could go on.
But the point is that these wolves, these fears, are mine, not my daughter’s. My daughter is alive with independence right now. She wants to be with her friends or she wants to be alone. The only place she does not want to be is standing by the shepherd who wants to keep her confined. But like any good shepherd, I am afraid of losing my sheep. My instinct is to pull out my staff, call my sheepdog and get my wandering sheep back into the field where I can see her.
But my instinct is not my job right now. I go back to what my friend said fifteen years ago. My job is to prepare my daughter to leave the safety of the pasture. She has to venture out where I cannot see her, beyond the protection of the fenced meadow. That is where she will ultimately live; now is her time to travel beyond the fence.
It’s agonizing — watching my daughter wander and not pulling her back to safety. As the shepherd, I worry about the wolves every day. That’s my job. But these are my fears, not hers. My daughter is on an important path of her own right now. She might wander into danger. She probably will. And if and when she does she will have to figure out how to manage. Sheep do it. They have instincts of their own — to run from predators or to stick with the flock when danger is afoot.
My job now is to stand back and trust that my daughter can handle the wolves. It’s scary to watch her go. I worry that she’ll wander too far; that she’ll lose her way and never come back. But in these moments of panic, I tell myself that the fenced meadow will always be here for her. I will always be here for her. She needs to wander now, to explore beyond the fences. She has good instincts. She’s a smart, capable sheep and I know deep down that she’ll be okay. She’ll be back.