My son is getting married this month. I am delighted, and I love his bride. I thought I had resolved the issues of letting him become an adult but maybe I haven't. I have been working for weeks on a video project that I plan to show at the Rehearsal Dinner. Gathering photos and pouring through memories, I find myself in an emotional heap and I am baffled by my confusion. It has been a bit like therapy--going back over the past--reliving the highpoints of mothering him. I am surprised at how territorial I have become about our history, and how really sad I am that a huge section of my life is over. I am finding that his marriage is a bit more about me than I thought; I am having a very hard time letting him go.
I have always believed that boys are easier to raise than girls. They are more “up front” and readable, “what you see is what you get.” At least that has been my experience. Also, my son is a lot like me in personality and in talents. He loves movies and stories; he is an English teacher and wants to work with adolescent kids. He has an army of friends and people confide in him and ask his advice. He is tall and red-haired and looks like his Irish ancestors and his quick witty comebacks make me double over in laughter. He is a wonderful friend.
He always wants to know my opinion about things and people. "Can I run something by you Mom?" he often asks. When he was in high school, we used to go shopping for the "perfect basketball shoes" every January before the season began. The ritual parade through the sports stores always ended at Friendly's where the biggest cheeseburger special and the chocolate Fribble were never enough to fill him up. As we shared the French fries, we also shared opinions of people and issues and talked about “ stuff” in an open and honest way. Both of us really learning to listen to each other.
I am puzzled as to how to keep this familiarity now that his life and mine are changing. I have no modeling for "letting go". My mother held me so close that I couldn’t breathe and she saw the changes in my life as a betrayal. She wanted us to be best friends and we never were. She was very able to say what she wanted and needed, but I never felt the same freedom. She could not allow for my change and growth. She had such a difficult time understanding that my first loyalty was to my husband when I married, not her. She saw everything as a judgment of her worth and a threat to her control. It was so difficult for me to deal with her as an equal. She wanted things to stay eternally the same--and of course that is not possible. Consequently, our relationship became a duty. It didn’t grow and it never changed.
Lately, I think that I understand her attempt at control--it was really loneliness and fear in disguise. She didn’t want to loose me. She didn’t want me to change or be different from her or from the life we had shared. If I remained a child, I would still need her and not go away. And if I am truly honest, I don’t want my son to change either. I want him to still need me in that special way of confidant and advisor—nor do I want him to go away. But of course he must.
Life is so hard that way. Just when you think you have a handle on the way things work—it changes. Just when you think you are managing the toddlers, they transform themselves into rational beings. Just when you think you can cope with the adolescents in your house, they become adults. And just when you think you really know how to mother your son—he is a man and no longer has a need to be mothered.
When I am really honest with myself, I want to go back to a time when I was the most important woman in his life. I am no longer that. He has a new leading lady and his wedding marks the beginning of another chapter for both of us. I am now in a supporting role. And that is as it should be. My job was to make him independent. I am delighted that he has found a wonderful partner who loves him and wants to share his life. And as I gather the pictures and the memories of Act I of his life and I display them in the video that will be my gift to him the night before his wedding, I am preparing to reload my camera so that I may be a witness for the future when we begin to forge a new relationship—while in my heart I know that nothing will ever be the same.