Editor’s note: This is part five of a portrait series highlighting ordinary families in the community. Earlier this year, Sheridan Press photographer Justin Sheely started a project to highlight families in Sheridan County. He asked local families several questions: How has having children for the first time changed their lives? What are the challenges they face? What advice would they offer to new parents or those about to have their world changed forever?
SHERIDAN — Andrea Mellinger has a lot to be proud of. She got her master’s degree as a single mother of a 5-year old boy, and she managed to raise him in a safe home as she pursued a career in accounting. But now, Mellinger is faced with a challenge that she is finding a little more difficult: letting go.
When Mellinger graduated in 2001 from the University of Wyoming, Tristin, 5, walked across the stage with her wearing his own cap, gown and a sash that his aunt had won from a golf tournament.
After graduating, Mellinger worked accounting jobs in Denver, Colorado, but eventually moved to her hometown of Sheridan to raise Tristin with the help of her parents. Mellinger was able to work full time in accounting-related positions as Tristin grew up.
Mellinger’s father, Ken Mellinger, was able to step in and fill the void of the male role model in Tristin’s life. He would take Tristin hunting, fishing, camping and browsing for guns at stores. But Ken Mellinger’s time with his grandson was cut short. He died of cancer when Tristin was 13.
Looking back, Tristin said that he is fine with his childhood life. He has friends, some of which were also from homes of single parents. Tristin was able to find a male role model in the father of a close friend.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.
Tristin is now 20 and is going to school at Sheridan College. It is a proud moment for Andrea Mellinger to watch her son spread his wings, but it is also hard.
Tristin originally started school at UW. Mellinger said she had to fight the desire to go with him to Laramie. Making the adjustment from seeing her son every day was tough.
Having Tristin out of the house wasn’t all bad for Mellinger. She found unexpected freedom in being able to indulge in small ways — like having uncontested control of the television, for instance. Focusing on herself was a nice change after 18 years of being mom.
Mellinger knows that she did everything she could for him to spread his wings and soar, but Tristin soon found out that he wasn’t exactly ready for living away from home.
He was homesick and wanted to visit home almost every weekend. It was challenging for her to know that her son was having a rough time, and she had to fight the motherly urge to jump in the car and drive five hours to see him.
“I knew that he wasn’t happy,” she said. “As a parent, that was so hard to watch.”
It wasn’t easy for the Mellingers to admit that UW wasn’t the right fit at the time, but the single mom was relieved when her son decided to move back to Sheridan to continue school at the junior college.
“You just need to be a safe place to come back to,” she said.
Tristin is not one to stay on the ground after falling off his horse. He has plans to return to UW after finishing in Sheridan and wants to study abroad in Japan.
Mellinger feels that Tristin might be more prepared to go back to Laramie, but traveling overseas alone is a giant leap. The thought is scary for her, but she is learning to let go and trust in her son.
“I can’t tell him what to do, he is an adult,” She said.
Mellinger doesn’t believe that Japan is the wrong choice, but she is realistic about the possibility that her son will make mistakes along with the right choices.
“He’s going to make the wrong choices. He has to at some point,” she said.
Tristin agrees. People have to fail in some things. Otherwise, they won’t learn from them.
Mellinger is determined not to be a lawnmower parent — a phrase for someone who makes life easier for their children by mowing down the weeds in life.
“Then they’d rely on you too much. They wouldn’t be able to make a decision on their own,” she said.
She told her son that college is “your deal” and that she was not going to step in to bail him out. He has to do things on his own.
Tristin is showing that he has the right mindset for the challenge.
“Life is about making mistakes, then overcoming them,” he said.
For any parent grappling with how to launch their teenager, Mellinger offer this advice: “Trust that you raised your child right. You have to put faith in your kid, too.”
Tristin added that a phone call once a week helps, even if it’s just small talk.
Seeking to have control of his own life, Tristin appreciates that his mom is letting go, allowing him to soar and sometimes crash.
To recommend a family to be highlighted for this project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.