My oldest stepson moved in with us about two years ago. He came to us like an injured animal, zero self-esteem, head hanging like he was expecting a lashing at any moment. My husband and I became overnight motivational speakers, peppy cheerleaders, trying our best to build him back up, get him back on his feet.
I had started to think that just maybe, it was never going to happen. He would take a step forward, then resist the hell out of us, step back, almost like he was deliberately sabotaging himself so he would never have to leave the safe harbor of our home and be on his own.
My husband and I both struggled with that. Both of us moved out on our own at a young age and loved it, thrived on independence, leaped out of the nest willingly, wings flapping a mile a minute, ready to take on the world. My stepson seemingly not wanting to get his own place puzzled us and seemed quite foreign to us.
We forged ahead, kept working with him. We taught him what he needed to know: how to do laundry, clean a bathroom, balance a checkbook, budget for his own place, write a resume, iron a shirt. We taught. We re-taught. We reminded. When that didn’t stick, we lectured, yelled, performed interpretive dance, whatever it took to force something to seep into his occasionally thick skull, and more importantly, break through the barrier of his fear, his lack of confidence, and start to help him realize that yes, he could do all of this just fine.
A few months ago, my stepson started searching for his own apartment. We reviewed his budget together, and we helped him figure out what he could afford, how much to set aside for utility deposits, furniture, getting set up in his new home.
He was so proud to inform us when he found a place. He paid for all of it on his own. He paid his deposit, came home with a key, and was beaming from ear to ear.
And as for his father and stepmom, who had been nudging him in this direction for the past two years, aiming for just this moment? Well…we were proud, of course, but what surprised me was how lost and sad I felt.
It’s silly, really. This is a big moment for him, a milestone. I smiled and told him how proud I am of him. I shared ideas for jazzing up his new place. My husband meticulously inspected every square inch of his new apartment and made a repair list, some of which will be trusted to the property maintenance, and some of which he would not dream of letting anyone handle but himself.
The other day, I was making a list, jotting down things my stepson still needs for his apartment, thinking out loud to my husband, when I noticed he was watching me with a wistful, thoughtful look. He said, “You are a good mom.”
I stopped, suprised, and then just smiled. My heart soared. It meant a lot to hear that right then. He hugged me and said he knows I do a lot for the kids.
My stepson has mostly finished moving his things to his new place, and as the signs of his presence here have dwindled, as the closet emptied, as books disappeared, as clothes vanished, I had to resist the absurd urge to stop him, to put everything right back where it was, ask him to sit down, be a kid again, damnit.
I won’t do that, of course. It’s his job to grow up. It was my job, and my husband’s job, to help that happen, make sure he was ready. So it’s time to stop being sad. This is a moment of celebration, not loss. His first apartment is a big, big step, and I won’t ruin it by being sentimental, sappy, clingy. I want him to be as excited and proud of his first apartment as I was of mine. I won’t take that away from him.
But I will admit, it means a lot when he texts me to ask a question, how do I do this, what do I do about that. I know as time goes on, those text messages will get less frequent, but I also take comfort in knowing that it will only mean we have done our job well, and he is more comfortable at the steering wheel of his own life…which is what we wanted all along.