Whose Pins Are You Juggling? A Parenting Story

My 16-year-old son had just gotten a job working at the local supermarket, and was attending orientation, his first day at work. He called me to come pick him up when they were done, and my 23-year-old daughter, having nothing better to do at the time, drove with me to keep me company. We sat in the parking lot together, waiting for him to emerge from the store.

Time passed. No son.

I looked at my phone. “He said he’d be done at 3:30, and now it’s 3:41. I guess on the first day he might be finishing up some paperwork…”

We talked some more. Time marched on. It was 3:53.

“Should I just go in there, very discreetly, and see what’s going on?”

My daughter’s answer was quick. “No, you shouldn’t.”

I sighed. She was right. It was his first job, his first day, and if he was old enough to be hired, he was old enough to not have his mom come into the store looking for him and trying to solve his problems.

Then he sent a text.

“Sorry I’m late. I downloaded this app and something isn’t right with it. I’ll be out soon.”

I breathed a sigh of relief at the belated communication. Okay, he’ll be a little later—that’s fine. I can handle that.

4:12. “I wonder what’s wrong. What about if you go in instead of me? You’re not his mom, you’re just a sister. You could just see if he needs more help with the app.”

“No. I can’t go in, either. He needs to do this himself.” Said with the wisdom of one who has had three new jobs, three first days, not so long ago.

Again I said, “You’re right.” And after a few minutes, “I’m glad you’re here to keep me company and to keep me from going inside.”

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

A week later, I found myself sitting in my office, tears in my eyes, my heart tense as I went over in my mind a conversation I’d had earlier that day. My oldest son had gotten a new job (great news), but my mind had found a loophole that could spell unforeseen disaster and negative consequences. So like a mom, I fretted.

My daughter, having inherited the “something’s wrong with someone” radar from me, stood in the doorway.

“What’s wrong?”

Teary-eyed and knowing perfectly well that I was worrying about something that hadn’t happened and might not ever happen, I told her what could happen with my oldest son’s new job. For good measure, I tacked on a few worries about another son, as well. And then I might have also added in a worry about her. She patiently listened through all of it.

“So,” I concluded, still weepy, “I just worry, you know? It’s like …” I searched for the metaphor, “… I have all these pins that I’m juggling and I have to keep them all up in the air and I can’t let any of them drop.” I ended with a little sob of self-pity and mom-guilt that I am oh so good at.

She came over to my chair and looked me in the eye. “But they’re not your pins.”

I was silent for a moment, contemplating. She was right. I solemnly repeated back to her, “They’re not my pins. I have my own pins, but these aren’t mine.”

She shook her head and smiled gently at me. “No.”

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

What does it take to learn to let go, to let those older kids fly on their own, to let them sink or swim? How do you lessen the worry, the desire to protect, the urge to swoop in and save the day—even (and especially) for your adult children? Not to mention resist the urge to give unsolicited advice, to share the “right” solution, to just tell them what to do?

I’m a juggler by nature. I’ve always been this way. My practiced eye, honed by decades of life experience, follows those pins as they sail smoothly (or not so smoothly) in their orbits, or as they occasionally fall to the ground.

I should know this by now—that my children are perfectly capable. That they are juggling their own pins. They’ll drop a few, they’ll make awkward grabs and swipes, they’ll keep adding more pins until it’s all a blur to me and maybe to them, as well … but they’re their pins to juggle, not mine.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

At 4:25, my youngest son had still not emerged from his first day at the grocery store. Overcome by boredom, I had been reduced to singing a VeggieTales medley to myself and giggling with my daughter over the most trivial of conversational threads. Every five minutes or so, I melodramatically whined, “Why can’t I go in there again? He’s almost an hour late.”

“You know why,” she sighed, feigning annoyance at my impatience. “You have to let him do it.”

And at 4:36, here he came, striding out of the store, partly proud, partly exhausted, and partly sheepish. “Sorry I’m … am I really an hour late?”

“Yes, over an hour. Did you get your problem solved?”

He did. By himself.

I think that as long as I’m able in this life, I’ll always be juggling because it’s the kind of person I am. But some of the pins don’t belong to me. They’re not mine to juggle. At least, not anymore.

Image by Dennis Russell from Pixabay

2 thoughts on “Whose Pins Are You Juggling? A Parenting Story

  1. Ooh! An especially apropo read on this day two weeks from when our youngest leaves the nest. Thanks. I’m trying to remember my new mantra – “not my problem.”


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