My daughter is home for the summer. As a biology major, she has spent the past six weeks in the lush green forests of Finland, studying disease in shrews. I have learned that shrews are not just a thing of Shakespearean literature in need of taming—they are tiny rodent-like mammals with a propensity for violence. My daughter has developed a tenderness for these tiny venomous creatures.
My daughter is facing her senior year of college. This means our relationship is changing again. This daughter-woman cleans up after herself, doesn’t have a curfew and no longer requires my assistance with her laundry. Instead, this morning she is pondering her life-after-college concerns with me. She considers where to get her postgraduate degree, the cost of living in various cities, if she can afford to live there with an entry-level job and diving deeper into her romantic partnership. I listen as we sip coffee in the early morning. She no longer sleeps in till noon.
The day she was born, when the nurse placed her in my arms, salty tears fell from my face onto hers and I wished she would grow to be kind, confident and independent. During the teen years, she often reminded me of the salt of those tears rather than the kindness I wished for her. Now, as a grown woman, her love of shrews isn’t lost on me. They have a common link—both are prone to prickly responses. But, as we drink coffee together on this slow morning, her saltiness is replaced by her need for wisdom. I open my mouth to offer a motherly opinion but promptly close it.
I am in a parenting shift. This season of parenting is no longer about balancing the emotional responses of a teenage daughter but about actively listening to an adult. Now I am a sounding board, giving guidance only when asked—I have yet to be asked. Her big brown eyes convey wonder and uncertainty. She speaks with her hands. Her long, adult fingers express her quandary state. I breathe deeply, and so does she. I sip coffee as she spills all her concerns onto the kitchen table. It’s comforting to know this table is still her safe space. Her energy floats up and around as I work to remain still, refusing to jump in and save the day.
Her words come slower; she pauses and sips her coffee with coconut cream. Coconut creamer, an item that I will always have waiting for her, no matter how old she gets. She looks up, considers me briefly and says, “Well?”
“Well, what?” I ask.
“What should I do?”
The door has been opened and I rush towards it, ready to spew my opinion. But wisdom interrupts. Telling her what I think she should do will not help her. This moment is more about her accessing her own wisdom. This is not the moment I tell her my opinion. Instead, this is the moment when I guide her back to herself. This conversation is less about what she should do for postgraduate work and more about how she makes decisions.
My best mothering move is encouraging her to listen to her body and trust her intuition. I ask her to consider how she feels when weighing each opportunity. I tell her to say them aloud and see how her body feels. She does this and quickly realizes two options are not for her, leaving two on the kitchen table. She will think more about them later.
We pause and refill the coffee mugs. She smiles, “This is nice.”
“Yeah, I like discussing my life with you, and you just listen instead of telling me what to do.” A salty grin spreads across her face. It touches those big brown eyes. Ah, my little shrew of a daughter, it appears that in the end, you have tamed me.
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