Forever young

An adult daughter can be a bottomless hole of need

Every Mother’s Day card I received from my daughter from about age 12 on was inscribed, “Mom, I know we haven’t been getting along lately, but…” This disclaimer was inevitably followed by a fervent declaration of daughterly love. Recently, a friend confessed that she, too, has a drawerful of cards with notwithstanding clauses. They’re our shared joke about the fraught, unshakeable bond we moms and daughters share.

With our girls all grown up now, my friends and I should be seasoned pros. But one thing they don’t tell you going into this gig is that it never gets easier. (Motherhood is also the only job you can never quit. Even if you’re a slacker, they keep promoting you.) For the moms with whom I confer, this stage is turning out to have its own peculiar charms. Now we’re the ones rolling our eyes.

Adolescence is supposed to be the trial by fire. And it’s true that most of the time you’re pulling it out of your ass, as our kids so enchantingly put it. Today, keeping a girl safe from eating disorders and MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 is no job for sissies. Still, as heartbreaking as adolescence is for a parent (you think it’s a picnic to plummet overnight from She Who Must Be Adored to moronic irrelevancy?), it’s a breeze compared to what’s coming. Teenagers merely hate you, which is bracing, at least in retrospect. But once they’re out in the big, bad world, they realize they’re going to need you. They have this epiphany precisely when you’re rebelling against being sucked dry. It’s nothing personal. After 20 years of indentured servitude, you’re up for a new challenge, or so consumed with your own needs, you forget to notice theirs.

The other day, a colleague sent around an e-mail tagged, “Need shrink. Will pay.” Why she was sending up a flare isn’t the point. Almost every woman I know could use some backup these days. This is an age when you start to lose things – your keys, your job, a long-term marriage, a parent who no longer knows who you are. Sometimes just standing upright deserves a gold star. Your head’s in Tuscany, just like in those Freedom 55 ads. But even if you could make a break for it, the moment you’re at the door, your kids want back in.

Some never left, some boomeranged back, some are camped in the basement, failing to launch. Some have parental units throwing money at the problem. Some hit the ground running without a backward glance. But they’re a vanishing lot. According to Statistics Canada, adult children are now three times likelier to shack up with their parents than in the late ’60s. Since you can now own a Caribbean island for the cost of acquiring a fully accessorized grown-up life, many kids discover that parents still come in handy. The upshot is that whether it’s to buy them stuff, hold them in the night, become their life coaches or confirm their long-held suspicions that you’re completely useless in every way, even the most evolved of the species still want their mommies.

Mothers are supposed to long to be needed, and indeed, many do. But many enjoy other hobbies, too. It’s impolitic to say so these days, what with the Ministry of Motherhood issuing Talibanesque dictums solemnly instructing new mothers to embrace “attachment parenting” and breastfeed their babies until they can order their own shakes at the drive-thru. As a long-time proponent of detachment parenting, I’d flunk out as a young mother today. There’s a reason tribal elders take teens into the woods for coming-of-age rituals. They intuitively understand that parents and grown-up kids aren’t meant to live together. At a certain point, you want them to bugger off.

I mean this in the nicest possible way. As daughters go, I struck gold. No mom could possibly have had an easier run than I. People stop me in the street to sing her praises. But no matter how much you love your daughter, there comes a time when you want your space. Sons, by the way, can get up your nose, too. As a mother of three grown-up marvels observes, “All my kids are pissing me off these days.”

And so, this Mother’s Day I’ll probably add to my card collection. Maybe there are mothers out there who’ve got it all figured out. If so, I don’t know any. Anyway, it’s the journey, right? Not the destination? Or as we used to say when things got weird, all you can do is “Keep on Truckin’.”