When my oldest daughter was 10 years old, she and I and my soon-to-be-and-now husband went on our first trip together. The three of us took a road trip south to Tybee Island, Georgia, a little beach town about 20 miles east of Savannah. One of my friends was getting married on the beach; I was the maid of honor. My daughter was the only child on the very short guest list of 25 or so.
There was a lot for me to contemplate in anticipation of that trip.
By the time we had arrived, settled into our hotel and met up with the bride and groom at their rented condo, I started grappling with how to get my daughter to behave like all these childless adults would expect a child to behave in such a setting: she would need to be out of sight and out of mind. Seen and not heard. Putting it simply, she would have to be perfect.
The bride had no such illusions in her mind. My friend welcomed her into the bridal suite of the rented condo, first showing her the luxurious bathroom and then the television with satellite access. My daughter contentedly sat down and watched satellite television to her heart's content. Sponge Bob and That's So Raven and so many other shows that I had never heard broadcast because I didn't have a television, much less satellite access.
I was slightly horrified. I thought it was somewhat impolite for my daughter to be taking over the suite of the bride and groom, not to mention that she was watching shows that I found to be annoying at best.
The next day was the wedding, all of us on the shore at nine in the morning. By ten, we were all back indoors eating brunch. My daughter decided she would like to go back to the beach. She wanted to go play with the bride's standard poodle. On the beach. My reluctance took a physical form as I started feeling panicked at her doing this by herself. But once again my friend stepped in. The bride not only gave my daughter permission to go to the beach with the dog, she encouraged her to run and wear the dog out. After my daughter left happily, my friend assured me that nothing would go wrong. The dog was well trained and would look after her. Besides, my daughter had a new cell phone, right? And we could watch her from the condo balcony.
Sure enough, nothing went wrong. I started to relax. I started to realize that maybe my daughter could handle this freedom and it would do us all good.
By the last morning we were there, my daughter asked if she could go out and play with the cats at the hotel. It made sense to let her go. We had to finish packing and also put together some breakfast. We would spend the rest of the day in the car. Best to let her get her energy out now, and best to start the day without a 'no.' My husband encouraged me to let her go since she had been so happy with the freedom we had granted her earlier in the weekend. So she left the room happily, promising not to go farther than we had told her to.
I'm naturally an overprotective mother, I know I am. I'm the kind of person who would rather be safe than sorry. But in my role as a mother, I have learned that there's a fine line between being protective and being smothering. That trip to the beach was my first glimpse of my daughter doing things independently, out of my reach, and trusting that she would be alright. I fear the worst could happen to my children, but the worst has never happened. It has never even come close to happening. I learned to let go of my daughter during that trip and to trust her. I think she had much more fun and enjoyed the beach much more freely because of it.