My two children were preemies and spent time in the NICU. My son was born at 24 weeks and my daughter was born at 34 weeks. I never intended to be an over-protective mom. I have always wanted my kids to be strong, independent, free thinkers who are confident in their abilities and able to make smart decisions. But, I think their preterm births predestined me to obsess over germs and acquiesce to cut their meat at the dinner table. I worry way too much about their social affairs, grades in school and extra-curricular activities. Have I become a helicopter mom or is this typical behavior for the mother of preemies?
To ensure my kids don’t grow to resent me and rebel at every opportunity – or end up living at home for the rest of their lives (God forbid) – I decided this would be the summer of independence for my own sanity as well as theirs. We are making simple changes, but the impact is palpable. From making lunches to helping with laundry, both kids are showing me that they are way more capable than I have given them credit for. And they are enjoying their newfound independence as well.
It has not been without incident. We almost had a small house fire when my son, Jackson, tried to heat up his Pop-Tarts® in the microwave without first removing them from the foil wrapper. But such growing pains should be expected as they learn to navigate the relatively unexplored terrain of food preparation and simple household chores.
The proliferation of cell phones among preteens in our neighborhood expedited our decision to equip Jackson with his own smart phone. With easy access to the Internet and ability to text girls (OMG), conversations about personal responsibility and smart choices have permeated our home the past month. While I entered into the “family plan” reluctantly, I have to admit I am enjoying some of the perks of having a connected kid! Allowing him to ride his bike to the pool and to friends’ houses in the neighborhood is much easier with the knowledge he can call me should problems arise. And, I have to admit I am enjoying the new relationship we are building through texting. Were our kids born prewired with the ability to text? I can barely keep up with his rapid-fire fingers!
Nurturing our baby birds to prepare them for flight is a process. It is not easy for any parent. But for those who have endured a NICU stay, watched our children struggle to breathe and overcome countless medical and developmental challenges, learning to let go may take longer and possibly be a bit more painful. While we certainly celebrate our tiny super heroes’ herculean accomplishments, it is hard to flip that maternal switch to let them soar on their own.
With a fire extinguisher at the ready, I will persevere on my quest to help my kids learn to be a little more self-sufficient and self-reliant this summer. I will use my newfound free time to hone my technology skills. I may need them to monitor all those outgoing texts from my preteen!