As a mother, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find ways to help my children gain independence and eventually prepare them to leave home strong, sure and confident in their choices as young adults. This task has not been an easy one. Apparently the idea of independence makes some kids anxious. Others want too much too soon. My husband loves to make the sound of helicopter blades on the occasions he hears me interfering in their decision making. And my kids let me know when I overstep my boundaries and crowd their space. Shouldn’t a parent help with course selection? Weigh in on friendships and dating? A Whatever You Think Is Best mom I am not.
But lately isn’t their independence that worries me. It is my own. Or should I say, my lack of it. Frequently in my car, when one of many favorite song plays on the radio, I’ll think, Ive got to get someone to put this on my ipod. I often yell for help to the nearest passing kid when I can’t immediately access my recorded shows on DVR or when I want to change the background on my phone. Netflix on Xbox? Wallpaper? Apps? Not the language of my youth. Not too long ago I had an issue with my computer and lost nearly an entire day of work waiting for my son to return home from school and fix the problem. I often feel as if I am stumbling through a mysterious digital world without access to a gps.
“What are you going to do when I leave for college next year?” my son and ipod/pc/tablet tech advisor asked, irritated he once again had to add more songs to my playlist.
“I’ll figure it out by then.” I said, handing him my list.
But the sad truth is I said the same thing when my first daughter and social media specialist left for college and said something similar when my second daughter and Verizon/fashion consultant left this year. At this rate, I’ll need to start a new family just to get anything done.
Last weekend I was an invited speaker at the National Book Festival in DC. I’d written a speech on my desktop and was prepared to print out hard copies to read from the podium. But then I took a step toward the twenty first century. I’d gotten a tablet for my birthday. My youngest had given me a brief tutorial. Why not? My speech and book excerpt readings could all be combined on one neat little device. When I packed, I simply threw my tablet and charger in my purse and was out the door. But after my arrival in DC, tucked in my hotel, reworking my speech, I had difficulty formatting the text. My son didn’t pick up his phone. Why would the geniuses at Samsung make copying and pasting documents so difficult? I banged and cursed the touch screen. These devices were supposed to make life easier? I realized I was angry, not at the tablet, but for being a person who let technology pass me by while I clung to landlines and pocket calendars and answering machines. As the hours passed (yes hours) and I frantically tried to decode smart technology, I made the miraculous discovery of google voice typing. Just speak into my tablet and Voila!–the printed word. I stuck with it and made other discoveries. On my own.
On the day of my speech, after a lovely introduction by a local news anchor, I nervously proceeded to the stage, tablet in hand. I may have stumbled, scrolled the touch screen a little too fast, accidentally highlighted text while reading, but I finished my speech, dignity intact. And just a little more independent.
It is a fine line parents walk between offering guidance and hindering growth. It is a line my kids have been forced to walk as well. Finding my way toward independence meant that I finally understood what the kids have been saying all along–Asking for help doesn’t always mean you are asking for the answer. Sometimes it just means you need to stumble until you find your own way.