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Moving The Fence Line

When Maddie was born, my mother-in-law
said, “Now is when you build a tight white fence right around
their little bodies. And you protect them and keep them safe. And
then in a little while, you’ll tear down the fence and set it
back up again, a tiny bit further away from them. And then
you’ll spend the rest of your life moving the fence further
and further out. And it will be hard. Really hard.”

This was very depressing to me.

But I got what she was trying to say, and thought I understood it.
More space, give them their independence, leave them free to fail.
Blah blah blah.

As I’ve said before, this has been a
hard year for Maddie, and she’s had to work through some
tough stuff as she started kindergarten and learned what it’s
like to be an introvert in an extrovert’s world. She’s
had to do some growing up over how she treats friends and the
growing pains have been plenteous. But it’s gradually gotten
better, though in fits and starts.

Just last week Maddie had some sleepless nights, which led to tough
school mornings. Twice I had to shove her into the school while she
cried and said, “I’m not sure about this! I don’t
know if I can do it!”

Now, my instinct is to take her aside, get down on one knee, and
talk to her until she’s ready to go. “Baby, I know this
is hard, but you can do this. I will be right here when school gets
out, and I’ll be thinking about you the whole day. I love you
very much and I know you’re brave and will make it. Think
about all your friends in school ready to play! Think about all the
things you’ll learn! You can do this.”

But I didn’t. I shoved her through the door, smiling
compassionately as I pried her fingers off my leg, and said,
“You will be ok. You can do this. I know you can.” And
then I walked away.

I discussed this with someone I know who is a therapist, and she
said, “You did the absolute right thing. You need to talk
less with her now. Affirm, affirm, affirm, and leave her to work it
out herself.”

This is completely counterintuitive to who I am as a mother. I want
Maddie to see my empathy, my sympathy, to know I completely
understand her and love her and support her. But I know my friend
is right; I need to stop talking and leave her to figure it out for

In short, I need to move the fence line.

As I wrestled with this over the last couple of days, I realized I
am having to close off a part of myself to my child. I need to
separate myself a bit, to not be such an open book to her. Leaving
her a bit more solitary – not alone – will help her
find her feet. Seeing the shutters pulled over my windows will
force her to look inside herself. This is surprisingly hard to do.

Because here’s the thing: I always knew the fence line would
move. I always knew we would grow apart and she would become more

I just thought she’d be the one walking away, not me.

Turning my back – even briefly – on my child and
walking away; making a part of myself – my worry and empathy
for her – unknowable to her; simply not fixing everything for
her: these things are important for me to do, and will make Maddie
a stronger, happier woman.

But they do break my heart a tiny bit.


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