Mothering a Teenager: A Lesson in Letting Go

Touring the University of Colorado in Boulder, I kept thinking, “Man, I want to go to college again!” The recreation center, with its three-story rock wall, indoor/outdoor swimming pools and ice rink seemed more like a resort than a college. Nice dorm rooms, delectable dining choices…then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I’m looking at colleges with my daughter! 

This was the first college we had toured. My daughter, Riley, is just entering her junior year, so we have some time before we need to make any decisions. We wanted to start touring schools now so we didn’t feel pressured when she was a senior. It’s a proud moment for a parent, and a nostalgic one. Where was my chubby-cheeked little girl with sunshine-in-a-bottle personality who used to climb into my lap and read stories for hours?

Elizabeth Stone said becoming a mother “is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Watching Riley walk around the campus, I understood this quote completely. It was easy for me to imagine her as a college student, and much harder for me to remember that little six-and-a-half-pound baby that changed my life forever 16 years ago. I felt so grateful that I was able to retire from my TV news career two years ago to share this time with Riley. At the same time, I feel the sand running through the hourglass at an alarming rate and I fear I won’t have enough time to teach her everything she still needs to know before she leaves the nest.

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As parents, we do everything we can to love and protect our children. That instinct never goes away. But what I’ve learned is that being the mother of a teenager is a lesson in letting go: Letting her go out with her friends instead of staying home and watching a movie with you; letting her make and learn from her own mistakes; and eventually letting her take the first step toward independence by going off to college.

On Riley’s first day of Kindergarten, my mom sent me flowers with a card that said, “You’ve already given her roots, but today you gave her wings.” I think giving wings is a lot tougher than giving roots, but it sure makes me proud to watch my daughter fly!

Chrys PetersonFor 20 years, Chrys Peterson was the face of WTOL news, anchoring the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. She is now a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.