The sun beat down on us from above, softened only by a light breeze rustling the leaves on the trees. We smelled the faint odor of cut grass and felt the buzz of nervous energy as we approached the first tee of the golf tournament. It was our first as mother and son. Usually my husband is my son’s caddy, but not today. I prayed that I wouldn't mess it up.
Golf is a tough game. There are not three strikes before you're out as in baseball, and no second serves as in tennis. Every stroke counts. Every single tap of the ball. It's hard enough for an adult to keep calm in this situation, let alone an 11-year-old boy. It was all on his shoulders with only a little bit of help from his caddy.
There are strict rules for being a caddy. You cannot touch the ball once it's in play, you cannot direct the shots too closely, and you cannot disrupt the game. You can provide advice, a voice of reason, and a shoulder to cry on. A caddy is a partner for discussion and analysis, but the caddy does not make the decisions and she does not take the shots. It is his stroke, his game, and his life. It reminded me a lot of parenting, especially for teens and young adults.
Our day had ups and downs. We celebrated together when he sunk a birdie putt from the edge of the green and mourned together when he lost his ball in the woods and had to take a penalty shot. Sometimes, he stomped ahead to deal with his emotions alone – his caddy a distant memory. Always, I was his steadfast companion, carrying the clubs and ready to support him when he needed it.
As a parent, I'm often in the foreground of my children’s lives, offering my unsolicited opinion or issuing directives. But as a caddy, I behaved differently. I stood back, waiting for my son to come to me. In a crisis, I stepped forward to present my view – which was sometimes well received, and other times ignored – but most of the time I was in the background, letting him decide what clubs to hit and what risks to take. It was an eye-opening experience.
There were moments when I watched proudly as he treated his fellow golfers with kindness, just like we'd taught him. I witnessed him struggle with the temptation to not count a penalty stroke, and breathed a sigh of relief when he came down on the side of honesty. There were times I bit my tongue as he voiced his frustration a little too loudly under his breath or slammed his club back into the bag a little too angrily. I held my words and my hugs at bay to let him work through the flood of emotions he was feeling.
It was hard — picking my spots to step forward but trying, more often than not, to hang back. I let my son make poor decisions and learn from those failures without judgment. I somehow knew when to step in to help him pick up the pieces for his next challenge.
Being my son’s caddy was like being the best version of myself as a mom. No helicoptering. No being overly involved. Providing space for taking risks and living with the consequences, but always maintaining a steady supportive presence. I was there when needed, but mostly on the sidelines, trusting him and waiting to catch him if he fell too hard.
On the course, caddying for my son, I was the mom I want to be.
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