Learning to Let My Daughter Go

How I learned to let go of my middle schooler, a little bit at a time.

I cannot believe that my little girl is starting eighth grade, her final year of middle school. Where has the time gone? The days when I would tag along on the walk to school in the mornings are just about over. I may have squeezed my last “I’ll take you and your friends for pizza” out of her. I can only hope I have done my job and prepared her well for the road on which we are now embarking.

When my daughter was going into sixth grade, just starting middle school, parents of older children in New York City told me that many kids start traveling alone, without an adult, sometime during the middle school years. The thought of this absolutely terrified me: the strangers, the cars, the bikers. I knew I had to start preparing her to navigate the streets without me by her side.

In the beginning of sixth grade I made a very conscious effort to start making her aware of everything I could think of on the route to school—and even scare her a little bit. We discussed which streets had turning signals, what side of the street the liquor store is on, how to wait until the bikers stop before crossing the street, and so much more. I did this over and over and over again for months, just like a broken record. Finally it was time to let her guide the way. “Tell me what to do, when to cross, where to stand,” I told her. By the end of the sixth grade, she was walking home from school without an adult. 

As we moved to seventh grade, I suspected she would have even more of a zest for independence. To that point, she’d only gone to and from school by herself. Now she wanted to go to friends’ apartments, the movies, the frozen yogurt shop. How was I going to deal with this? I really needed to think about the next steps.

Since she was not necessarily going to be staying in our neighborhood, we talked about the choices of transportation in the city—buses, subways, Ubers. There are so many options, but we needed to figure out what would make us both feel safe and comfortable. I got her the Uber app for her phone, and I make sure she always has a MetroCard with funds on it. We both agreed that walking should be her first choice if the distance is not too far. We talked about safe places she could duck into if she ever felt it was necessary for any reason at all, such as Starbucks, Duane Reade, or CVS, places with which she is familiar and are very easy to find. She assured me, “Mom, I can do this. I’ll be fine.” I must admit, her confidence was somewhat reassuring; however, deep down, I was dying just a little bit. She was still my little girl, and I would worry no matter what.

We did tons of talking and prepping. Then one day, it was time for her to go use all of her newfound knowledge and be a big kid with her friends. Even today, I still remind her before she leaves the house to make sure her phone is fully charged and that her tracker app is on. “No texting while walking, don’t stand too close to the curb, and be careful of those bikers,” I remind her as I watch her walk down the hall to the elevator. I typically get a cute smirk in return. As time goes on, I admit, it does get a little easier—but just a little easier—to watch her walk out the door. 

As hard as it is to watch this independence sprouting right in front of my eyes, I have found an upside to all of this. I no longer have to take her everywhere. I don’t have to drag her brother out in the rain to pick her up from a friend’s apartment. I can even send her down to the supermarket to pick up a few things for me.

This independence thing might not be so bad after all!

As my city kid now starts her last year of middle school, I feel almost as confident as she does when she is out and about on her own or with her friends. I must remind myself that I have done my job and taught her to make smart choices. I can’t be with her every second, so I must trust that she has listened and paid attention along the way. She has come a long way since starting middle school. I will continue to let go, even while still trying to hold on to her, a little bit at a time.

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