I remember when I was a new mother. I was consumed with my baby. Nursing, changing, soothing, adoring. Every moment was taken up with her presence. I went back to work when my daughter was six weeks old. I was lucky. I had my own business and was able to go to work in small doses — three or four hours at a time — so that I could come back home and be with my baby. I loved going to work. It gave me a place to connect to myself, to be social for a few hours, to remember who I was before I was a mother. But still, I hated leaving my daughter even for those short periods of time.
Having a baby is a lot of work. There is very little freedom. It’s like lock-down only you’re totally hormonal and in love so you don’t feel it as harshly. I remember moments of utter frustration when my daughter nursed for eighteen hours of the day. It was her only means of soothing whatever was troubling her tiny soul. In those days I wished for more freedom, for a break. I felt trapped by parental responsibility. I had a life — work to do, emails to respond to, friends to see — and I was tethered to this little being, unable to take care of the other aspects of my life.
Now my daughter is sixteen. She just left on her first road trip. It’s a small one, to a city just a few hours away, but it feels like she's traveled a thousand miles. At sixteen my daughter is wildly independent. She wants to be up, up, and away, gone from the clutches of her parents and her teachers, her coaches, and all that is familiar. She wants new and different and exciting. She’s got a list a mile long of things she wants to do in her life and most of them don’t include me.
These days I see my daughter in tiny moments — a short morning check-in over oatmeal and coffee before she hits the ground running. Maybe an afternoon shopping at Goodwill together. Often she comes home past my bedtime and I try to make myself stay up to welcome her home. Occasionally on these nights, we’ll have a spontaneous TikTok browsing session and I’m grateful for the chance to laugh together, to see what her life is about these days.
On the last day of my daughter’s sophomore year, I planned to have a family dinner but when she got home she’d already gone out to eat Bahn Mi with her friends. She wasn’t hungry so we sat on the back patio for a half hour and toasted the end of the year with a lemonade mocktail. It was short and sweet. It was all she had to give at that moment and I was grateful.
I got to watch her play soccer yesterday for the first time in over a year. I don’t go to games anymore because now my daughter is old enough to drive herself. And, she doesn’t really want me there. On the way home, she ranted about the heat and the lack of subs. It was familiar and strangely comforting to be in the car with her that way. The whole experience was only a few hours but I soaked it up like a long vacation after a hard year’s work. I’ve been driving carpool and watching her play soccer for over ten years and it’s always a delight.
We’ve switched, my daughter and I. Our roles have inverted. I understand how she feels. Now she is the independent one, the one with a bigger, more exciting life. She has business to attend to, parts of herself that cannot be nourished by me. Now I am the hungry one, longing for the familiar connection we once had. Our relationship has changed; our roles are different now. These days the connections come in small moments, tiny precious encounters.
I’ve heard older mothers talking about this change for years but I didn’t fully understand it. Yesterday my friend sent her sixteen-year-old off to backpacking camp. Her daughter would be in the mountains, unreachable for two weeks. A few hours after she put her daughter on the bus I asked my friend how she felt. “Sad,” she said, “I miss her.” I knew exactly how she felt. Even when my daughter is sleeping soundly in her room one floor below me I miss her. She’s here, but she’s far away. I know it’s a good thing. She’s moving on, living her life, becoming an adult. But the missing is still there.
It’s not unlike the feeling I had when my daughter was six weeks old. When I had to go to work, to be away from her, even for a few hours, I missed her. I relished the moment of coming back home, opening the front door and scooping her little body into my arms. It was such a clear, easy feeling. I was taking care of my baby, doing my job.
That baby is all grown up, but I still feel that desire to scoop her into my arms and squeeze her full of love, to know that I am doing my job. My job looks different now. It’s not as obvious or simple. My daughter doesn’t need me in those same ways. But she still needs me and I’m figuring out how, trying to follow her lead.
What I’ve learned is that the moments of connection are still here. They are smaller, more fleeting but if I look for them I can see they are here. The morning chat, the evening cell phone scroll, listening to a rant on the way home from a soccer game. The key is to be open, to watch for the opportunities to connect, and be present and grateful when they come.