By Elizabeth Wangare
“Mom, I want you to meet Angela,” said my 8-year-old son as we walked to the market. To say I was surprised was an understatement; I was utterly shocked and didn’t know what to say. To me, you see, this was still my little baby. I didn’t mind carrying him downstairs or to the school bus until the day he asked me to let him walk on his own. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes I had made with my older one, whom I felt I hadn’t given my best.
Once I regained my composure, I asked if Angela was his desk-mate. “No,” he replied and added, “I already told you I don’t like sitting with girls.” This was referring to another day, when he had shared that because girls liked to share their lunch, which he didn’t want, he preferred to sit with boys. I went on with my probe, going through every place we had visited that had girls his age – from church, to the district, to grandma’s place. I started thinking he was really enjoying my questions as he churned out “No” rhythmically.
Then it hit me: this “baby” was actually a young man who had preferences and could make choices. He knew places – and things — that I considered above his age. As we continued walking, I was surprised that he seemed to know the place better than I did. I paid closer attention to see he was no longer the little baby who used to clutch at my blazers –he was already running ahead of me and waiting.
When I finally met Angela, a myriad of emotions crossed through my heart. Here was a young woman, about 20 or so, that my son was able to call a friend. I said hi and stood aside as they chatted – about school, his games and his passions. It was easy to see they were free with each other like they had been friends for some time. Here was someone who did not treat my son as a baby and he seemed to enjoy it – they both did.
I thought my baby’s communication skills were still in development. I could not imagine what he would be saying to a grown-up that would possibly interest her. Boy, was I wrong. All the lessons I’d been taught by my own mother about engaging with strangers came to mind. In fact, it was only one: Do not!
This engagement taught me that more lessons were needed, yet parents can only do so much to protect children. I didn’t want my kids to grow up without friends like I did, yet I wanted to remain their protector. Aside from teaching them the rules of engagement and self-care, we have to trust that others out there will do their bit. Maybe my development as a parent was slow; maybe inwardly I just didn’t want to admit my kids were growing to be different people.
Parents have to recognize the need for their children to grow up as individuals and make their own choices. By ensuring our children can speak to us, we will know the people they spend time with and check on them. It was pleasurable when my son would ask me if it was ok to speak to so and so, but now he deals with people as their own persons and I must guide him and let him. Every day, a little part of him is torn from me and I struggle to let go.
Getting hurt is inevitable and painful, but never being allowed to grow up would be the greatest hurt of all.
About the Author
Elizabeth Wangare is a Communication consultant, Writer, Wife and Mother from Kenya. She has been freelancing since 2015, and is now a full time blog writer. She has contributed to the Huffington post and other publications. She shares her freelance writing tips on www.elizabethwangare.com. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook.