I’ve never connected with Gwyneth Paltrow before I had the realization that I’m having a “conscious uncoupling” from my six year old.
It’s not my idea, it’s the Cupcake’s. And don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled with her newfound sense maturity, even though I’m secretly mourning the loss of my baby girl who doesn’t need me like she used to. I am redefining my role as her mom.
It’s happened so fast. Rewind to not even a year ago when the Cupcake would put the teary death grip on me for drop offs at school. In all of her 2,387 days she has always wanted me to walk her into the classroom, party room, friend’s house, etc. up until this past month. I’ve noticed that each week she’s gradually said good-bye to me further and further away, until one day she said, “How about I kiss you good-bye at the car today and I walk across the street and into school by myself?” I was the one with the crocodile tears in my eyes after she left, and again when I told Big Daddy about it that night. She says she wants to be like the older kids – but I’m still not allowed to drop off in car line. I’m readying my heart to deal with that next week.
While I so often say that I want to freeze time, I now know it’s an ill-advised fantasy. Time truly is a healer of wounds and the developer of character. Kindergarten year was fraught with bullying and difficult friendships. She was smothered and felt trapped, floundering because she couldn’t find a safe haven when she was away from us. Now she feels connected, adores her teacher, and says things self-aware kids say like, “They all want to sit with me at lunch. And I get it, I’m a nice girl. But sometimes, I just want my space.” (We should all be so lucky.) She understands the delicate nature of people’s feelings and has married it with the lessons of that past year to set boundaries for what is appropriate friend behavior. She’s not ruthlessly shunning companionship from overbearing friends, but she recognizes who to keep at arms length and who she can trust. I can’t even imagine how different I would be if I had learned that lesson so early on.
Just a year ago, I had a clingy daughter whose self-confidence would waiver wildly for reasons unbeknownst to me. We went through a period of significant separation anxiety where the littlest change would set off a melt-down of mega proportions. We had to take a break from soccer (which she loves) because the Cupcake would be in a fit of tears triggered by too great a distance between me and the bench. If the mix of girls was different at ballet, she would have a panic attack. Arriving at a birthday party or school classroom was terrifying to her because for that brief moment, she would be the center of attention, and thus she would cling behind my legs desperately wishing the stares to stop. This was my life. I grew accustomed to having to coach her through these emotionally charged moments. Jump ahead to this Cupcake 2.0 and you’ll see a young girl who marches across the street with solid steps, not even looking back for reassurance. She used to always come rushing back.
This updated version of the Cupcake bravely got her ears pierced (her idea). She’s had her first sleep over. She can open the child-proof vitamins on her own. She can read. She uses mouthwash without me having to tell her to do it. She’s watched Harry Potter and wasn’t scared for a second. She’s learned how to ride her bike without training wheels. Okay, well, she maybe needs just a push to get going but even that will be “so last week” soon.
And the big fat flag that she’s growing up — just the other night, she asked very specific and thorough questions about where babies come from. And I answered — honestly. I foolishly believed I could be vague about the topic for at least another year or two before she wanted details, but that train has also left the station.
At this pace, I imagine age 6 will also be the year she stops believing in Santa Claus and with that, one more major thread with her youth will become uncoupled from our tightly woven protective nest. If you had asked me a few months ago if I could see where we are today, I would have just rubbed my head and poured another glass of wine, muttering something unintelligible about parenting being hard. I’m a bit in shock at how fast my baby girl is no longer a BABY girl. She’s now this incredibly cool little person that still “needs” me, but in different ways of which I am still trying to anticipate and stay in front of.
This “conscious uncoupling,” her gaining independence and us letting go, is a natural and universal phase in childhood development – and yet, it’s a sneaky beast. Every child is different, every path unique, but reality is that they all uncouple eventually — and repeatedly. It’s part of growing up, no matter what age. I suspect it’s how you deal with it that makes the real difference. We made some tough choices while we were in that dark space, but the other side of it is fun and shocking and delightful and fresh and I think I’m ready more. At least I’m putting this out there to the interwebs so I can come back and remind myself of it later. Most assuredly, I will borrow words from Gwyneth’s now infamous (and often ridiculed) blog post, “We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been.”
I get it Gwyneth, I totally get it.