My daughter turned 18 years old last month. My son will be 16 years old at the end of this month. It is a weird feeling for me. Lately, I find myself wanting to cry more often. To be honest, I am crying right now. I am also so proud of them. My babies . . . .
“Transition” is the term used in the education system for when a student is moving out of high school and into the adult world. In Native American culture, the term “transition” refers to death. As a parent who has been assisting both my children in the transition process for the past several years, I will say there is a sense of death, but not in the traditional sense. Transition, as defined in the education system, is a period of great change. There are aspects of the life that you have had that are coming to an end, but there are also other aspects that are being birthed into existence.
My children have been blossoming into two amazing young adults. It is a painful and wondrous journey from a parent’s perspective, but also from the perspective of the developing child. The world can be a terrifying place, especially if you live in a world that is not designed for you.
To be given the privilege of caring for a young life, to support that life, to encourage and protect that life’s growth and development is something I will cherish for eternity. This privilege is also an incredibly difficult one to bear.
The process of transition into adulthood isn’t just a journey that a developing child goes through. The parents also have to go through a transition as well. My job description as a mother has shifted over the years as my children have been maturing. These last two years in high school have seen a major shift in my job description as a mother.
I have had to make myself step away from my babies. My job as their mother has been to give both of them roots, to assure them that they were protected and cared for, and to teach them how to fly on their own. It has come to the point where I need to let them spread their wings. It is a terrifying endeavor for a mother, particularly for a mother who has raised her children on her own for the last six years.
I am scared . . .
My children have multiple disabilities. Autism is only one. Mental illness affects their lives at so many levels. Then there is the trauma and grief of having a father who ran from them.
My baby girl is graduating high school in June. She is already a registered voter. She doesn’t have her driver’s license, but she plans on eventually getting one. She has been researching universities and scholarship information for some time now. She has dreams of working in the field of environmental science. I remember when she first looked straight into my eyes. She was just born and my doctor had placed her on top on my chest while the umbilical cord was cut. She was so beautiful, blue eyes and a full head of hair. She didn’t cry until she was given a bath. She would just stare right into you with those intense blue eyes. She did it to the pediatrician at the hospital as well. He commented that he had never seen a more intense baby.
My son, my beautiful son, is determined to eventually earn a PhD in Astrophysics. I almost lost him due to pregnancy complications. I was 21 weeks along when everything went to hell. My body fought so hard and gave everything it had to keep the pregnancy going. I was almost paralyzed. He eventually was born healthy at 37 weeks. I had bones break during his delivery. He came out screaming. He was alive and breathing. That was all that mattered. My son was alive!
When I think of transition, I envision the process of Mitosis. At first there is a single cell, the parent cell. There comes a point in the life cycle of that cell where the chromosomes are replicated, the information and tools needed to live independently is prepared to be passed on to the next generation. Those replicated chromosomes then align in the center of the cell with centrioles moving towards the poles of the cell. This is the part where the parent cell is getting ready to separate the replicated chromosomes, all that information and tools, in preparation for transition. Then the painful pulling apart begins.
The parent cell needs to allow the next generation to move ever so slowly away from the protection that the parent cell can provide. In this analogy, my children and I are at different points in Anaphase. My daughter and I are closer to Telophase than my son and I are. At some point all three of us will reach Cytokinesis. This is where my children will fly on their own.
There are times I am finding it hard to breathe when I think about what is coming. I know that they must be allowed to fly on their own. They need to have agency of their own lives. For the last six years it has been about survival, processing trauma and grief, and finding out that we are all stronger and have more resilience than it ever occurred to us.
I will admit that I am scared about being alone. My children are so much a part of me that I need to redefine who I am after they move on with their lives. Not only have I been a single mother, I have also been their primary teacher, their confidant, their protector, the one family member that they could count on. I need to learn how to branch out. I plan on going back to graduate school and earn a second Master’s degree. I feel that I need to do this. I need to find a new path that will allow me to live a life that is not centered on the wellbeing of my children. I need to allow myself to spread my wings as well, but at the same time maintaining a support structure so my children will always feel that someone has their back.
I have had to struggle on my own for so long. I don’t want that for my children. I don’t want them to feel alone in the world with no one to turn to. I will be there for them for as long as I can and I will continue to teach them the tools needed to make it through their days on this confusing planet. That is a part of my job as a parent that will never change.
I raise my glass to all you parents out there struggling through your own transition and to those who will be facing it in the future. The journey is hard, but it is well worth it.
“Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work.”
– William Bridges