All about apron strings. And why sometimes you've just got to go ahead and untie them yourself.

There's a particular phenomenon amongst mothers of babies and toddlers. You've probably heard it happen. It's when you ask the mother, "How was your week?" and they answer in the plural. "Well, we slept through the night for three out of four days." Or, "We're potty training." Or, "It's our three-month birthday next week. We can't wait."

We, we, we. Us, us, us. Our, our, our.

For a few years, it's a tight unit made up of baby+mother (or, forgive me, baby+stay-at-home dad; I'm not trying to being exclusivist). The cords are cut a little when the tiny ones toddle off to preschool. They're stretched a bit more as they head to school, but you're still pretty much an all-in-one package with your kids until they turn 12ish. 

And then, suddenly, you're at sea in a leaky boat with waves buffeting either side, trying to steer a straight course. 

If there's one thing I can say about being a parent, it's this: it all changes. All the time. 

I'm not saying these changes are wrong. Completely not. All of this is as it should be.

We should be tremendously involved with our little ones, yes, perhaps even to the point that they become us in conversation. And then, we should start to unravel ourselves from being knit up in every part of our teenagers' psyche**. Because that's what growing up is about.

I'll tell ya, though. I wasn't really prepared for just how chopped updiscarded, even worthless I sometimes feel as my children are growing up.

When my babies were tiny, I was their sun, moon and stars. I was their existence. The answer to every cry.  Yes, I was exhausted and sleep-deprived, nervous and teary, but, oh my, was I valued.

Now, as the mother of older children, I am still often exhausted. Perhaps not so much sleep-deprived, but definitely still nervous and quite frequently teary. So not much has changed in that department. What is different is that I'm not quite so valued.

That is, at least, outwardly. 

Look, I know they value me deep down. Often they say it, and I love that. Sometimes, though, it feels like it's so deep it might need an archaeological dig to bring it out. You get a lot more rolled eyes and snide comments when you've got people over 12 living in your house with you. The buttons that are pressed by a 14 year old cut a lot deeper and hurt a lot more than the ones pressed by a 4 year old.

In the meantime, I'm learning to be a separate person from them as much as they are learning to be separate from me. For a stay at home mother of four who spent 10 of 13 years breastfeeding, it's, well, difficult.

I'm learning that I have to live my own life. When I start trying to live through my children I get frustrated, angry and pushy with them. I have to have my own interests. I have to follow my own dreams. Because my dreams aren't theirs. And I'm pretty sure (especially after 10 gamillion music lessons) that their dreams aren't mine. 

I had to learn this in my close relationships years ago. I've always had the tendency to be a little bit co-dependent. Here, let me get that for you. I want to help, do, be everything for you. Why don't you love and appreciate my efforts enough? Haven't I shown I love you more than life itself? Enmesh with me! Let me be emotionally overly involved in every possible way!

Back then I had to learn to be me, my own person for the relationship to work. With babies, maintaining those sorts of emotional boundaries didn't seem to matter so much. But now I'm having to re-learn it all over again. This time in even more subtle ways.

My children should not be the thing I depend on to make me happy or fulfilled or give me a sense of purpose. The more I need that from them as they grow up, the more they will pull against it. Of course I love them. Desperately. Crazily. To the ends of the earth. But I'm not putting my trust in them for my well-being.

Ultimately, only God and I together are responsible for that.