Taking flight: Helping a teen find her wings

By on June 8, 2015

When our 15 year old daughter mentioned that the French department at her high school was giving any student enrolled in French the opportunity to go on a week long trip to Paris, and that she would like to go, I immediately went to a place of panic. The thought of her travelling over the Atlantic Ocean and being over seven hours flying time away from me was inconceivable. Never having been apart for more than a couple of days (and then it was only when she was on another school trip to Ottawa), my mind went to all the dark places parents visit at the thought of not being able to protect their children if needed.

At first, I tried to delay talking about it, hoping that she would lose interest. Then I tried to manipulate her into changing her mind (offering her a sweet sixteen party instead), but she remained steadfast in her determination to have this once in a lifetime experience. It didn’t help that the French teacher was doing an excellent job of making it sound very attractive.

I eventually agreed to go to an information evening put on by the tour company organizing the trip. I secretly hoped that there would be very poor attendance and that of the parents present, most would not be interested, meaning that the trip would be cancelled and that I wouldn’t be blamed for her not being able to go. However, as the evening wore on, I found myself (despite my best intentions) getting caught up in the excitement. I put myself in my daughter’s shoes and imagined her walking through the Louvre, or going up to the top of the Eiffel tower. I began thinking about how this would likely be an opportunity for her to spread her wings, learn more about herself and likely a trip she would never forget.

Ultimately I had a heart to heart talk with myself and recognized that coming up with excuses and delaying tactics was only serving to ease my anxiety. That it was my problem. And so, to her utter amazement, I shared that her dad and I would support her decision to go.

Over the months that followed, I mentally prepared myself for her day of departure, attended more informational evenings, and got swept up in the flurry of creating lists and buying travel items. Then, as the months gradually turned into days before she was to leave, she too began to feel apprehensive and somewhat anxious about being so far away, about flying without us for the first time, about what she would do if she wasn’t feeling well or dealing with a difficult situation.

We rehearsed possible scenarios, we worked on the best coping strategies we could think of and finally the day for her to leave was upon us.

At the airport, it was apparent that she didn’t want us to linger. It reminded me of dropping her off at day care. Staying only prolonged the anticipated emotions upon separating. Only this time, I wasn’t going to be picking her up at the end of the day.

As I sat in my office that evening, waiting to see a client (I had decided to keep myself distracted after saying goodbye hours earlier), I received her text – “OMG, I can’t believe I am actually doing this! Please send me an inspirational message”. No pressure! I had to come up with something quick as the plane was taxiing down the runway. “As you soar above the clouds, leave any worries you have on the ground below and remember that I love and believe in you.” I wrote. Then, it was time to say au revoir.

My daughter returned home yesterday. As she rushed through the arrival gate, I felt the same sense of elation from her as when she was little and greeting me at the end of her school day. Despite being tired from a long flight, she was eager to share the details of her trip with us. As we chatted during our drive home from the airport, I couldn’t help but feel proud of both her and myself. Her for having the courage to confront her own fears, for having the confidence to explore the big world around her and for realizing that she does not need my protection the way that she used to – that she is amazingly self reliant and responsible. And proud of myself for recognizing the importance of stepping aside for her to walk down a path of self growth and independence.

About Sara Dimerman (aka HelpMeSara)

Sara Dimerman has been an individual, couple and family therapist for over twenty years. She is one of North America’s most trusted parenting and relationship experts and the author of three books – ‘Am I A Normal Parent?’, ‘Character Is the Key’ and a book for couples – ‘How can I be your Lover when I’m too Busy Being your Mother?’ Learn more or listen to advice from Sara and her colleagues by searching for ‘helpmesara’ podcasts on iTunes or by visiting www.helpmesara.com. Check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/saradimermanhelpmesara or follow Sara on Twitter @helpmesara.