When I signed on to this parenting thing all those years ago I had no idea what I was getting into. Most people don’t, I suppose.
But it wasn’t until yesterday that I had the misfortune to experience one of the absolute worst parts of being a parent… watching a child you love with your whole heart be hurt by the world. And though a part of me longs to join the ranks of “helicopter parents” out there… I can’t. It’s just not in me, and my practical, world-weary self can only hope that my child will be better off in the end if I resist the impulse.
Still it’s so hard to watch and be able to do nothing.
When they’re little you think being a parent is the hardest thing you’ve ever done… you’re stressed and sleep deprived and utterly responsible for this little soul who depends on you for absolutely everything. You travel with a small baggage train and your schedule is dictated by something not much bigger than a Thanksgiving turkey. Everything you ever thought about yourself and your role in the world is changed. You’re convinced you’ll never worry more or work harder for anything in your life. You know you’ve never loved like you love this beautiful child and you hold on tight to those little hands.
Surely there has never been a more beautiful, more remarkable, more accomplished child in all the world?
Then comes the time when they let go… they have to it seems, but you wish those fairy tale years could go on forever. Suddenly they can do for themselves… they don’t need you in that same way anymore, they bound down the driveway to the school bus without looking back and you’re glad for that. You take pride in it. Your baby has become a charmingly innocent little person who sponges up knowledge, experiences and all the best of possibilities.
They believe what you tell them. They think you have all the answers.
These are the days that you work to give that child (or children) a safe, fertile place to learn what they must to make their way in the world. You can still manage things for them… set up play dates, coach teams and insulate them from the worst of the world even as you cringe at every tragic story involving children of the same age. While a part of you grudgingly accepts that you can’t protect them 24/7, you hang on and work to control what you can, while you can. These are the days you try to expose this growing little person to as much as possible… give them education and experiences that will help to ease them into the adult world.
Except there’s nothing easy about that.
Turns out, the hardest parenting times are yet to come, for as we all know, the teen years are tough and the adult world sucks. It has mean people and fruitless effort. It’s often unfair. There’s a need for conversations about sex and drugs and racism. Classmates die, trust is broken as reality creeps in despite your efforts to the contrary.
Before you know it, the best you can hope for is to provide a safe haven for them to come home to. Be a person they can confide in. These children bear half your genes, have had the best of your parenting efforts and the life you can give, and they want nothing more than to be different from you.
So you sit back and watch them take those tentative steps into adulthood, holding your breath the whole while, praying they make the team, get into the school they want, have enough friends. And sometimes they don’t… coming home beaten and broken by that big, bad world out there. You bleed for them… more still because you know in your grown-up head that there’s nothing you can do to change it, to make it better. So you hug them (if they’ll let you) and try to find a valuable lesson in the bitter blow.
If you’re lucky that lesson inspires, or the setback sets their feet on a path they might never have walked otherwise. Maybe they even get to experience some of the best of the world, or a person, in the process.
Still it’s cold comfort, to me, and to the sweet, still vulnerable child I love so well.