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growing up

Not Too Overbearing, Not Too Hands Off: How to Be a ‘Just Right’ Mom

goldilocks

Full disclosure: I’m in a weird place right now.

Right now, I have one kid at overnight camp. I’m happy to report that, now that he’s in his sixth year at this Jewish summer camp, I have finally Chilled Out. 

I was once the “refresh, refresh” mom — maybe like you? You know, the person who spends the entire time their kid’s away scouring the camp photo website for a glimpse of their offspring. 

I’m pleased to report, however, that I have changed my ways for the better. I am no longer pausing the weekly Shabbat videos to zoom in on what might possibly be a glimpse of my son’s red hair (ahem — not that I ever did that). For that matter, I no longer really take that much time going through the weekly photos, either. I mean, what are they going to tell me? That he’s not wearing enough sunscreen? I know that already. That he wears shower slides as though they are actual shoes, meant to be worn all the time? Sadly, I already know that, too. 

In fact, some may argue that I’ve swung the pendulum too far in the other direction when it comes to communicating with my 14-year-old while he’s at camp. I don’t even remember to email him a note every day, much less to put an actual card or letter in the mail. Fortunately, I have a nearly-8-year-old daughter who has taken it upon herself to pick up Mommy’s slack: She sends her brother actual handwritten letters once a week. That way, he will know someone remembers him here at home. In fact, in a recent letter he sent, he asked, “Um…are you still sending me emails every day?” 

No, my son. No, I am not. Because sometimes I am too busy with your other siblings. Sometimes, I am busy with work. Sometimes, I am in bed and it’s 11 p.m. and I can’t fall asleep, and just as I am falling asleep, I have the thought, “Oh crap — I forgot to write him today”, and then I fall asleep without doing it. My heart is as fond of him in his absence as it is in his presence — I love that kid a lot — but I know he is in good hands, and he really doesn’t need to have daily updates about my podcast recording session with a sex therapist or my efforts to get in shape.

All of this is pretty good, actually. Keep the kid wanting more! We are close to achieving the balance of Just Enough Communication: that place of Zen where it is neither too much nor too little. Or, as the baby bear in Goldilocks would say, Just Right.

But with my oldest son, I am struggling with the other side of things: He is also away this summer, and I want to find out every single thing going on with him. I’m #obsessed. I want to reach out and know exactly what he’s up to at every moment. And that is not healthy, and I am holding myself back.

See, my oldest son, who is a rising high school sophomore, is at a program at a university hundreds of miles away from my home. He is almost 16, and he’s on a campus I have never seen, in a dorm room I have never visited. This is a “next-level” summer program, where he’s almost treated like a real college student: he has workshops all day, “lights out” isn’t until midnight, and he does his own laundry (well, we hope he does).

And, unlike my other son at camp, this son has a phone. To be honest, the fact that he has a phone sort of made me feel better about sending him so far away —  like, sure, we can text, we can talk, whatever, no biggie. We can FaceTime! You can show me everything! You can livestream your walk to class!

We COULD do those things, conceivably. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that we SHOULD not.

I find myself in a new communication balancing dance — and it’s one in which I find that I am actively trying to hold myself back from being the stereotype of the Overbearing Jewish Mother. Because, thanks to his phone, I COULD be in touch with him constantly. But I know that for his sake — and mine — I cannot do that. 

When your kid is at summer camp, after all, he or she is still a kid. But when your kid is at college — even just for three weeks, like mine — it is a foreshadowing of the separation that is coming just a few years around the bend. At camp, my kid still feels like a kid. But my kid being at a college is a physical, actual reminder of what the next step is, and that I will have to redefine and recalibrate my role in that new world.

Look, I am a lot of fun. But let’s face it: No teenage boy wants to be texting his mom all day. And even if he did (and I am sure he does, because, as I mentioned earlier, I am SO! MUCH! FUN!), I wouldn’t want him to do that. After all, he’s not on a summer program to communicate with me. Part of the point of him going on a program like this is to help him develop independence — and to develop independently of me. 

And, although I didn’t really bargain for this, maybe another part of the purpose of a summer program like this is to teach me how to be a better mom to my near-adult — specifically, by stepping back. 

So, this morning, I didn’t text him to check if he set his alarm for his class. I didn’t send him a pic of his adorable little sisters saying “Missing You!” I didn’t tag him in a funny Instagram post that made me think of him.

I cannot tell a lie: I wanted to do all those things.

Instead, I sang a few songs from Moana with my 4-year-old. I had a fight with my 5-year-old about Underwear: Why We Have To Wear It Even Though It’s Hot. I remembered to give my 6-year-old her antibiotic. 

And I put down my phone. And it was good. For both of us. 

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