My Teenager Is Becoming An Adult. It’s Hard To Watch.

My daughter is 18 and struggles with social anxiety. She gets overwhelmed when unexpected things come up. She has always been shy and can get distressed if she has to do something alone. She would rather text than call someone, and she’d rather order dinner on her phone than walk into a restaurant. It’s not crippling anxiety, but she has leaned on me and her two siblings to do things for her.

And now that she’s on the threshold of adulthood, I’m trying to push her comfort zone and guide her gently but firmly toward independence. I want to teach her that she can still get a little flustered but handle whatever comes her way. And if she doesn’t experience some hardships and take care of them herself, life skills will continue to be a struggle for her.

In the past, if she were struggling in a class, I’d give her steps to advocate for herself and suggest she email her teacher. By the time my kids reached high school, I expect all of them to sort out all their homework and grades. Hovering over them and checking the parent portal for missing assignments doesn’t do anyone any favors. But she struggled with it.

And her new grown-up life responsibilities have proved an adjustment, too. She recently had a routine doctor’s appointment and wanted me to go with her. She’s been going to the same doctor her entire life. She was nervous about what to do when she got there and asked whether to bring her insurance card and how to fill out the forms. I get it; it’s overwhelming. But I wanted her to try at least to do it on her own; if she got into a bind, she could always call me. And guess what? She figured it out.

Last year, she got her license and saved enough money to buy a car. I told her she would be responsible for taking care of it, which includes repairs, inspections, and paying her insurance. Having a car is a big deal, and she must understand the responsibilities.

Well, last week her car wouldn’t start. She was at a friend’s house and needed to be at work in a few hours. She has an AAA membership, so I told her to call, get a tow, then contact the mechanic. She was hesitant and asked me to do it. It was excruciating for me to see her discomfort. I could easily make the calls for her and then tell her what would happen to her car, but I didn’t. I told her she had to do it herself. After a bit of complaining, she did and now knows what to do the next time.

It’s painful for me to watch her go through growing pains as she navigates this world. I could quickly swoop in and remove all her angst by doing these things for her. It’s been hard for me to watch my kids transition into young adulthood because I still want to be there and do things for them. I want to be their safe place and be the one they can count on when things get complicated.

But I remind myself if I’m constantly pushing away the hard stuff for them, they will never learn to do things on their own. When I encourage all my kids to do stuff independently, I’m fostering valuable life skills. I’ve come to realize I can still be the person who comes to their rescue, supports them, and helps them when they are struggling, but I can also be the person who teaches them how to take care of themselves. Something that took me until my mid-40s and divorce to find the confidence to figure it all out.

It’s tough to let go when your kids reach young adulthood. It’s hard to change how you parent. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. But knowing they’ll be better off, I am investing in the future, and their independence is all the reassurance I need.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.

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