My teenage daughter is done with childhood. Now comes the test of letting go | Andie Fox

I’m surrendering to a force bigger than me, called upon to go deeper than I feel I can endure

My teenage daughter is the only person in Australia who, if offered a beach holiday as an escape from rolling days in lockdown and the claustrophobia of living together in a small house, will decline. And she did not refuse me thoughtfully or with polite regret. She rebuffed me and my holiday with casual savagery.

There is a funny clip on the internet of Tina Fey on The Tonight Show that I find very soothing these days, in which she is talking about her teenage daughter and comparing the experience to having an unrequited office crush. In it, Fey has disguised the pain of these rejections with the lightness of knowing the foolishness one feels when chasing the unattainable. But the rejection of my holiday came unexpectedly.

Like one of those cagey lovers who never broke off the relationship outright, but who increasingly required a magical set of circumstances for the timing to be right, my daughter avoided packing for the trip. Determined not to ruin the holiday mood, I waited with determined patience and instead, naively tried to cajole her with descriptions of the cottage I had booked, the beaches nearby, and all the things we would enjoy together.

It was not until we were loading the family bags and dogs into the car that she announced she would not be joining us. She said it with an edge of contempt so that you understood the choice before you. I could drag this out, force the unwilling to spend time with me, and ruin the joys of a beach holiday, or I could accept the parting, semi-graciously, and attempt to resurrect something for myself out of what remained. But either way, the fantasy of this family holiday was over.

Few things have surprised me about motherhood quite as much as the speed at which the work of all the holding and carrying shifts to the work of letting go. The holding, which began with the weight of a baby growing inside me and once born, only seemed to require more of my body, has been experienced as an uncompromising call to care. And while that caring has been largely instinctual and more rewarding than expected, I had not understood the assumptions I was busy making about its limits and who would set them.

I have always been comfortable with the idea that my children will eventually move away from me but I had assumed it would happen slowly and somewhat later. In my head I had worked backwards from the number 18, give or take a year either side, when in reality the first signs of my daughter’s separation happened much earlier. And so it was a shock to see that at 15, my daughter’s desire for family holidays had expired.

I might have moved faster with some unfulfilled plans had I been warned of a pending finality to this part of motherhood. Or, at the very least, it would have been a sobering question to have asked myself what dreams I was still carrying for our time as a family and what was preventing me from carrying them out. Still, it is possible that the real insight would not have been the speed at which children grow but the enduring mismatch between the fantasy and reality of one’s mothering.

Teenagers have a bad reputation but the truth is they can be vivacious company. My daughter has developed an unearthly quality to her appearance. She, like the visiting teenagers I watch in our home, look like figures straight out of mythology. They are all sceptical stares, faraway gazes and watchful leaning against walls, as though ready to spring into battle. She is also incredibly entertaining when the mood takes her. The rejection of us as parents by teenagers hurts, in part, because while we are becoming ever more delighted by the increasing sophistication of their humour and the boldness of their thinking, they are simultaneously becoming less enamoured with ours. But the pain is also undeniably existential.

The foreshadowing of an end to parenting is unsettling because to some degree it also speaks of contending with one’s aloneness and, ultimately, one’s mortality. I cherish time together with my husband, and I also never quite get enough time to myself, but it is nonetheless a life’s work for us all to make peace with solitude and with our relationship with self. The degree to which we successfully face these challenges is often played out through our children who, as literal creations of ourselves, set off our god-like complexes.

I have more sympathy now for how much of that denial of the child’s attempt at delineation is sparked by fear but I still remember how stifling it felt from the teenager’s perspective. Last summer, holidaying without my daughter, was a realisation for me that this passage of mothering was going to be critical to my children and how they become themselves.

In some ways, the test of letting go is similar to the test of all that attachment at the beginning of motherhood. I often feel I am surrendering to a force bigger than me, and that I am being called upon to go deeper than I am ready for or feel I can endure. And much like that first year, I am not sleeping well.

My daughter is my first child and so, as it always has been, she is making me into the mother I am.

• Andie Fox is a freelance writer who writes about motherhood from a feminist perspective


Andie Fox

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Praise, ice-cream and starting young: how to get kids to help around the house | Veronica Heritage-Gorrie
There’s an art to getting children to chip in with the chores. Here are some tactics that will set them (and you) up for life

Veronica Heritage-Gorrie

17, Aug, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
I’m too tired and busy to play with my kids. Is that OK? | Saman Shad
They may never remember the Lego I didn’t help them build but they will remember I was there when they needed me

Saman Shad

27, Jul, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
My three-year-old keeps attacking his little brother. How can I stop him? | Matt Beard
Your older son doesn’t want to pinch and push any more than your younger son wants to be pinched and pushed, Matt Beard says. Take that as your starting point

Matt Beard

13, Jul, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
When young children battle anxiety, parents don’t need to feel like helpless bystanders | Sarah Ayoub
Tantrums, clinginess and fussy eating could all signal your child’s emotional cup is full. Regulation depends on the emotion being validated and then released

Sarah Ayoub

15, Jun, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
Avoid eye contact, joke and invent an imaginary friend: how to have The Talk with your kids | Fiona Katauskas
If the thought of talking to your child about sex is terrifying, you’re not alone. But there are ways to ease everyone’s discomfort.

Fiona Katauskas

29, Aug, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
How do I motivate my kids without becoming a nag? The key is to make peace with slow progress | Conal Hanna
Sometimes it’s healthier to lower your expectations and remember there’s still so much for them to learn

Conal Hanna

02, Nov, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
How should I talk to children about death? Be brief but honest – and answer their questions | Sarah Ayoub
It’s important to give kids time to process information – and reassure them they’re safe and cared for

Sarah Ayoub

16, Nov, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
Raising a teenager is scary. Don’t be daunted and embrace the hard work | Andie Fox
The challenges of parenting a teenager can leave one powerless and alone. Accepting these challenges is the only way to get to the other side

Andie Fox

09, Jan, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
It took my son’s meltdown and a lightbulb moment for me to stop parenting on autopilot | Conal Hanna
I always dealt with my son’s resistance to swimming class with cuddles, reassurance and rewards. Then one day I tried something radical: listening to him and empathising

Conal Hanna

13, Sep, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
I’m afraid my grandbabies will forget me if my daughter moves interstate | Veronica Heritage-Gorrie
One of the happiest days of Veronica Heritage-Gorrie’s life was the day her twin grandchildren were born. Now, as her daughter and family think of moving interstate, she prepares for the worst day to come.

Sharing the Load is a column about parenting children of all ages

Veronica Heritage-Gorrie

30, Jun, 2021 @5:30 PM