No, Mom, I’m Not an Alcoholic: Knowing When to Let Go of Your Children

let goMy mom is worried about my drinking. It’s something she’s sensitive to: her dad was an alcoholic, and she’s seen friends destroy their health with booze.

I’m a drinker, no doubt: beer, wine, cocktails, you name it. On most days I have at least a little something come dinnertime, and on the weekends, maybe with lunch too. I like to think of my attitude toward alcohol as European in Spain, say, it’s not unusual to see people drinking wine and beer with their meals but I’m fine being labeled a hedonist. An alcoholic, however, I’m not. I don’t need a drink to start the day, though believe me, some mornings the promise of an Irish coffee would bring me to breakfast faster. (Kidding.) Nor do I drink to the point of drunkenness very often. In fact, when I mentioned my mom’s worry to my therapist, he administered a diagnostic right then and there, a little survey called “Are you an alcoholic?”

Guess what? I wasn’t. “Now you can tell your mom to stop worrying about you,” my therapist said.

Thing is, she does. She worries, and brings it up when she sees me, or over email, and sometimes, when visiting, she’ll even say things like “I’m glad you’re slowing down I think you’ve had enough for the night.” Way to monitor me, mom.

But that’s what parents do, right? They monitor their children?

With little kids, sure. As soon as my son Felix could walk on his own he took to assaulting other kids, employing an ever-changing arsenal of attacks we had our hair-pulling phase, our hitting phase, our scratching phase, our pushing random toddlers phase. At play dates and playgrounds, I could never be far from him, for fear he’d lash out at someone without me there to intervene.

Only in the past few months, really and he’s three and a half now has his behavior changed. He’s still quick to lose his temper, but he’s learned other ways of interacting with kids, and sometimes, even when frustrated, he’ll express himself non-violently. The aggressive urge remains when tired, cranky, or really upset he’ll backslide and go berserk but it doesn’t have the same control over him. He’s more little boy and less beast, which, believe me, is sometimes how he felt to me in those dark times; like I was unleashing this wild, chaotic force on the world, one which required constant monitoring.

The other night we went to a local restaurant with a window that looks into the kitchen, where kids gather to watch the cook make pizza. He tosses pieces of dough to them, which they mold and sculpt and sometimes scrabble over. Felix, for the first time, wanted to go up there by himself, leaving my wife and I at the table, sipping margaritas (though I only had one, I should add in case my mom’s reading this).

“How’s he doing up there?” I asked my wife. She had the better vantage point for keeping an eye on him.

“Fine,” she said. “In fact, he doesn’t want me to look at him. He keeps waving at me like, ‘don’t watch me!’”

She turned her attention to me. “Is that ok?” I asked.

There were a bunch of kids up there in close proximity. Anything could happen.

“He’ll let us know if he needs us,” she said.

And so we sat, and talked, and every few minutes he checked in, and we all had a great time. On the sly, we witnessed him making friends with a couple of older girls, getting them to laugh by pretending to toss their dough into the kitchen pretending, but not actually doing it, as he might once have done. When he caught us watching him, though, he clammed up. “Stop looking at me!” he called over to me once, and I did.

Our relationship with our kids is an ever changing one, with some things lost Felix doesn’t often want me to hold him while we listen to music, for example, or take him for long quiet walks in the park in his stroller and others, like this ability to socialize on his own, gained. Perhaps, as he grows up, the losses will come to outnumber the gains. He’ll need me less, and then, probably, he’ll want me less. Could be, when he’s thirty, we only see one another a handful of times a year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it could be a sign I’ll have done a good job as a parent, that my little bird can fly high without me.

There come times as a parent when we must let go of our children. Let go fully and with confidence, trusting that we’ve had enough of a hand in guiding them, secure that they’ll do just fine on their own, and certain that they’ll make good choices and recover from bad ones without us.

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