The shift was slow and subtle.

First, you pulled away slightly as I put my arm around you walking out of the grocery store. Next, the door to your bedroom started clicking softly shut each time you walked into it. Then, you wanted to go to a friend’s house more often than asking me to play a game or watch a movie or share a cup of hot chocolate.

I know it is to be expected. I know this is part of the growing up process, but it is hard not to lament over the days when I was the center of your universe. It was just a minute ago that you were clinging to the side of my pants whenever I dropped you off, and your favorite activity was walking around my closet in my favorite pair of black patent-leather stilettos.

Now, those shoes are too small for your size nine feet and your hair and makeup skills have outpaced mine. You don’t need me to pick out your clothes or help you get the cereal off the top shelf or cut the crusts off your PB&J. You no longer hold my hand in parking lots or show up at my beside early in the morning.

And a piece of my heart breaks off each time you pull away.

Sometimes you are so desperate for independence it is hard not to grab your arm to hold on for just one more second. It is the way you admonish me for tucking a piece of hair behind your ear or the deep sigh you exhale in response to a simple question about school.

Sometimes you are intentionally cruel and strike right for my jugular. It’s a cutting comment about how dinner was not to your liking or an eye roll when I try to make a joke in front of your friends.

But mostly, watching you grow into your beautiful skin is such an unexpected gift, an exquisite source of pain and joy I could never comprehend before living through it.

I burst with pride as you tackle school and extra-curricular activities and your passions head-on with an enthusiasm I didn’t even know possible. I am struck by the compassion you offer to others in endless bounds. I love seeing how capable you are of taking care of yourself and how your self-confidence is growing in lockstep.

You are pulling away from me in every way, and it pains me more than you. And this causes a palpable tension between us, a tug-of-war that has no end in sight.

And I’m a glutton for punishment, just like every mother is. I keep asking, “How was your day?” despite knowing I will only receive a grunt or a mumbled, “Fine.” Or I invite you to go on a Starbucks run even though I know you’d rather be on your phone texting your friends or finishing your homework. I still ask if you want a snack when you’re studying or quietly hover when you’re sitting at the kitchen counter—even though I know you can do these things for yourself.

I know the answer will more often be no than yes, but I ask again and again.

Because, sweet girl, there is something you should know. More often than not, daughters come back to their mothers, even after breaking away.

I know this because I was once a daughter, too. Almost overnight I went from feeling like my mother was always breathing down my neck to her becoming one of my dearest friends and confidants. I know this is hard for you to imagine right now, but it’s true.

And despite the way I treated her in my teens, despite my pushing her away and fighting her affections and believing she was holding me back, she patiently waited for me to come back to her—just as I will be waiting for you.

Because ours is a tale as old as time, dear daughter, and while you continue to cut the last remaining strings of our bond, I desperately cling to the few I have left.

And I cling to the hope that one day, not too far off into the future, you will return to me.

You will come back to me where I will be waiting with open arms. Because that’s what mothers do for their daughters who spend their teen years breaking free.

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.