Stand back and watch

She’s two and a half.

My daughter is sitting on the floor with the other toddlers in her weekly music class.  Usually they sing songs as a group–but today’s there’s something new.

20 kids take turns singing solos—a song of their choice into a microphone.

19 of them sing the Alphabet Song or Twinkle Twinkle.

Alli goes last.  She’s shy among  her peers, and I’m expecting she’ll refuse to sing alone.

Instead, she takes the mike and belts out every single word of every single verse of New York, New York.

I’m stunned.

And all I can do is —stand back and watch.

She’s 18.

It’s a couple weeks after her high school graduation.

Every kid I know is looking forward to moving into their dorms and entering college in the fall.

My daughter turned down the choice colleges that accepted her and made a different choice—working full-time at a local UPS store and ready to move into a shabby apartment with a group of people I’ve never met.

She’s dragging her heavy file cabinet down the stairs of our house by herself.  I’m right there at the bottom of the stairs, but she doesn’t ask for my help—with finances or the file cabinet.

She loads everything she owns into her car by herself.  My dreams for her future drive off with her.

All I can do is—stand back and watch.

And that’s what I do for the next 9 years.

I stand back and watch—as my daughter, starting with that job at the UPS store, carves out her own future which looks nothing like the one I imagined for her.

She stands firm on her refusal to accept help of any kind.  But she doesn’t need it.  Her determination, discipline and work ethic take her from that job at UPS to managing the store to several other jobs (often simultaneously)…..years later to junior college and then several universities…continuing to work full-time all day while taking a full course load at night….earning every penny of the cost—–and straight A’s.

Honestly, I don’t know how she does it.

But she’s just doing what she’s always done–-following her own path her own way.

That path reaches a milestone this weekend….when she will do what I never expected her to do 9 years ago—walk to the music of Pomp and Circumstance.

She’s 27.

No longer the little girl who sang or the teenager who dragged the file cabinet—she’s an amazing accomplished woman I admire  and adore more than I can describe—still doing what she’s always done—make her own choices on her own terms.

And as I see her graduate,  moving towards the next milestones, I’ll be doing what I’ve always done—stand back and watch.

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  1. says

    This is beautiful. Standing back and watching is so much harder than the active work of parenting, but so important. I’m so glad to have a friend like you who is a few years of ahead me both in parenting knowledge and wisdom.

  2. Richard says

    Standing back and watching … followed by stepping up and learning. That’s where the magic is. Talked to my daughter today. She amazed me yet again. Lucky me. Lucky us.

  3. says

    Thanks so much Kim. This is one reason I love knowing younger moms—makes me feel wise—and OLD. haha
    seriously I think each kid needs different amounts of standing back —sometimes our job as parents is to figure out how much—but I think they all need some. And yes, NOT doing or saying anything is SO much harder than the reverse—but so rewarding!

  4. says

    I’m always ready to accept praise for Alli’s wonderful qualities—but the truth is I can’t take any credit for her determination—she was born with it. Maybe all I did is allow her to make full use of it. Haha–and thank you!

  5. says

    I especially enjoyed your description of what an individual your daughter was in pre-school and how that trait followed her all the way into her adulthood.
    I, too, have one of those. And it is so challenging to TRUST that things will work out.
    Thank you for the hope and inspiration you passed on.
    It must have been very difficult for you to give up your Ivy dream for her.
    I admire you. And applaud you. And your daughter.

  6. Carol says

    Congrats!!! She sounds amazing! You are very lucky to have such a wonderful child!! XOX

  7. says

    Thanks so much Wendi. I really do commiserate with you and hope this does help other parents who have children also following “different paths’. It was very challenging for me to trust that things would work out, and especially challenging for me to let her follow her own path without interfering.
    It was hard letting go of the Ivy League idea but way harder when she didn’t go to college at all. As I write this she’s just a few hours away from walking at graduation—-so tomorrow, I’ll add your applause to mine.

  8. Ron says

    Darryle: As always, I get chills when you write about your wonderful children. Since I feel I know both of them, can you tell us what paths it looks like they are going to follow after graduation (excuse me if you have already posted this information, but I think I may have missed it.) Thanks.

  9. says

    Hi Darryle, What a fantastic post, thank you. I come at this from the other end of the parenting spectrum, I have a 3 year old and am always being asked by other parents if I’m sure he’s OK (climbing a wall, jumping off whatever he’s just found to jump off etc). I worry that many children are not allowed to have experiences for fear that they might hurt themselves….. yet, it is only by doing that they learn, only by taking the paths they chose that they know what path to take next time. I love standing back and watching my kids learn (from what works AND from what doesn’t), if they sometimes get a grazed knee along the way, sobeit…. we learn so much more and so much more quickly when things go wrong than when they go swimmingly.
    Thanks again for the thought provoking article.

  10. says

    Ron, how sweet! You didn’t miss anything—I didn’t mention what they’re doing. But it seems as if they’re switching roles. Daniel has several options but is less decided on the next step—only sure that it will be in CA.
    Alli is working as hard as ever, taking off a year from school. Next plan for her–double Master’s degrees –MBA and Public administration. Personally I’d like to see her take a vacation. haha

  11. says

    Thanks so much Fiona. I wish I knew as much when I was at your end of the parenting spectrum—I was one of those worriers you describe—until I learned better. I admire your wisdom and confidence and completely agree that all of us only learn by making our choices for ourselves– which requires our parents to stand back and watch. Wish more parents would follow your example—I think it produces kids who feel far more confident and secure in their ability to move forward through life. Thanks again.

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