The hardest thing this year about being a mom was letting go.
I have a college aged son with a chronic disease and having him away at college during a pandemic was not easy. Of course, I went through the worry of what it meant for him to be apart from me multiple times when he was growing up – when he went on sleepovers to friends’ houses, when he went away to camp and then again when he originally left for college.
Each time he left, whether it was for a night or a week or a semester, knowing I would not be able to check on him at night was nothing short of panic inducing. He has Type 1 Diabetes and what most people don’t know – and what I did not know before he was diagnosed – was that night time low blood sugars are a real danger which can result in hospitalization or death if they are not caught immediately. There really IS something called “dead in bed syndrome” and of course once I knew this, I simply could not get it out of my mind. There is all sorts of new technology which helps to make this MUCH less likely – like alarms on blood glucose monitors and phone apps that alarm when the child’s blood sugar level goes too low – but of course these things work only if the child or parent wakes up to the alarm. As a result of the fact that I had a very good sleeper for a son, I often checked his blood glucose levels three or four times a night when he lived at home.
So when he went away – whether for a night or a semester, and I could not check on him, I had to learn to tame my anxiety.
Every parent wants to protect their child from danger. But we have to struggle between fulfilling this wish and allowing the independence and autonomy which are necessary for our children to grow.
At each stage of development, we learn to allow a little more independence; we hang back a little to see what our child can do on his or her own. But it’s hard. We have to be able to tolerate the possibility that they will fall, fail, hurt themselves or feel defeated.
I could not stand that I would not be there to check my son at night – and I considered not allowing sleepovers or overnight camp and having him go to a local college and live at home. I just was so worried that he would not take adequate care of himself.
But again, each time I had to tame my anxiety and allow him to move forward.
And when a pandemic struck and I did not know whether he was at more risk for severe illness due to his disease or whether he would abide by the rules of physical distancing when at college, well, I had to really work on my anxiety.
I had to remind myself that the need for independence for my son trumped my desire to keep him safe or even my wish to KNOW if he was safe.
I also had to restrain myself from too much questioning of his habits. I struggled with my wish to be in control and my knowledge that I was not. And I think for all of us, this pandemic taught us that thinking we have control over our lives – and that of our children – is, at least in part, an illusion. Not only could I not control whether my son went by all the CDC guidelines, but I could not control his three roommates – nor could I even begin to know what their habits were in regard to keeping themselves safe from Coronavirus.
At some point, early in the pandemic, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation issued a statement saying that kids with Type 1 Diabetes were not more at risk for complications and death from Covid than other kids. Whether or not that was actually true, I have no idea, but at the time I found it tremendously reassuring.
I also found it helpful when my engineering-major son would joke that for engineers, this pandemic did not present a tremendous contagion risk as they didn’t socialize all that much to begin with. AND I liked the fact that his college seemed to be doing all it could to ensure safety and to keep parents and students aware of the precautions being taken (including daily analysis of the waste water from all the dorms to identify new cases!)
I clung to these reassurances and worked on keeping my anxiety at bay. My son needed his autonomy and independence.
Of course, I DID call him and email him and forward him articles about Covid…..
But limiting my anxiety through energetic use of all my defenses – and keeping the NUMBER of calls and emails to a minimum – well, that was the best I could do. I had to learn how to let go on an all new level, even though I had practiced so many times over the years.
One thought on “Reflections On A Hard Year, Part 4: The Mother Of A College Aged Child Reflects On This Past Year”
Kaija Reiss commented:
This is me with children. It always has been and I imagine it always will be. Many years ago a patient I see intuited that I tended to take most vacation time up in the country with my kids, where the riskiest activity was riding horses. One day he told me that he thought I was missing out on some of the greatest pleasures life offers. He went up in a helicopter almost every day and when I pointed out that daily helicopter flights might be a bit of the other extreme, he agreed but felt that a risk-free life was a possible loss for me. I knew he was right. I never told him that, but 40 years later people still pay him handsomely for location scouting in a helicopter. I sometimes regret that I never encouraged my children to do things that frightened me, no matter how safe they were (and they did what they wanted anyway). I wish I’d worked on that earlier in my life. They don’t suffer such fear and with all the analysis I had I never thought to discuss it.
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