Parenting, particularly other people’s parenting, is a weird landscape – sort of a swamp infested with landmines, alligators, and the occasional diamond. Yet, somehow, we can’t stay away. Parenting is a last uncharted territory – trodden by millions, yet pristine in its wilderness. And no one has a map. Maybe that’s the draw. Perhaps that explains our fascination with everyone else’s parenting journey. We either hope that they have a map and that we can follow in their footsteps, or that their missteps will validate our paths.
This past week or so, I’ve passed a few signposts that caused me to question, check my compass, and ultimately set me back on course parenting-wise.
An article was released discussing the “superiority” of French parenting.
NPR ran a piece on the next move of the so-called “helicopter parents” – parenting the workforce.
An acquaintance mentioned to me that she had chosen to have her children “to take care of me in my old age, but I don’t think that’s going to work out.”
We went to our school’s Open House.
We offered to pay Caitlin to foul at her basketball game.
I ran a half marathon.
I’m tempted here to jump into a defense of the “If you get a foul we’ll pay you $2,” strategy, because I know that out there somewhere is a parent waiting for me to step on that alligator, but we’ll get there.
Instead, I think much of this can best be explained by an open letter to my kids:
It’s Mom. Yeah, the one who bugs you to:
- Clean your room
- Do your homework
- Play your cello
- Go outside and do something, anything
- Sort your laundry
- Make your lunch
- Make your breakfast
You know, the one who:
- Takes out splinters
- Snuggles you when you’ve had that kind of day, or when you just want to feel small enough to fit safely into someone’s lap
- Lets you hold my ear while you suck your thumb
- Always has ginger chews on long car rides
- Reads “The Monster at the End of the Book” in a Grover voice
- Climbs trees and skips – yes, in public
So, here’s the deal. You owe us nothing. Your father and I chose to bring you into this world, and we chose to repay our parents by giving you the best upbringing we could. Our only wish for you is that you go out into the world as adults who do the best you can – for yourself and for others.
We will be here for you always. And sometimes (you might already have noticed) being here for you means allowing you to screw up, fall down, and figure out a way to get back up again. Sometimes it means encouraging you to take chances or (yeah, I know you think it’s weird) even break the rules. Sometimes it means doing the things that we don’t want to do, the things that are hard for us or scare us, because we know that you are watching. Yes, you help make us better people too.
Sometimes being there for you means challenging you to do more – to do better than what you thought your best was. Sometimes it means making you rewrite that paragraph until you want to shove it down my throat. Sometimes it means making you work the math problems until you want to stab Dad with the pencil. Trust me; it’s not fun for us either. Until it works.
When I watch you guys cope with disappointment, figure out how to solve a problem or fix a broken toy or project on your own, or work out conflicts with each other or your friends, then it’s worth it – it’s worth all of the tears, the red-faced tantrums, the ‘I-hate-yous,’ and the empty place in my heart that comes from seeing one of you hurt, even for a second.
When you talk to us about the stuff that embarrasses, confuses, or hurts you, then it’s all worth it.
I know we can’t help sometimes. Sometimes all we can do is watch you stumble around through a problem, watch you hurt, watch you feel lost and lonely, and all we have to offer is the cold solace of an insufficient hug. I know you think at those times that we have no idea what you’re feeling, that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be kids, that if we really loved you, we would fix everything that is hard for you.
I remember. I remember the loneliness of adolescence. I remember looking in the mirror and wondering whose face stared back at me. I remember the lost feeling of my friends running off without me. I remember losing my best friend – again, and again. I remember that horrible sense that the entire world was staring at me and whispering behind my back. I remember hating my parents and family for teasing me – laughing at me. I remember promising myself that if I ever had kids, they would never have to go through any of that.
I remember. But, there’s a secret that parents know, that we didn’t learn as kids. We aren’t all-powerful. We can’t fix everything. And, even if we could, we shouldn’t.
Someday, you will get out into a world that holds far more pain than that of your buddies ditching you on the playground. Someday, you will experience far more loss than a broken toy. Someday, you will feel a failure far deeper than a bad grade on a test or homework assignment. And, someday, Dad and I won’t be there to make it better.
Someday you’ll enter a world where you have to work with people you can’t stand. You’ll have to sit for hours in meetings that make you so bored you want to run screaming around the room, tearing off your clothes. Someday, someone you love will hurt you in a way that makes every nasty word either of your siblings ever said sound like a compliment. Someday, you’ll face things so scary that going for the ball in a game or climbing a higher tree will seem like brushing your teeth. Someday you’ll have to push your mind and body much further and harder than Mr. Wolfe’s mile run.
And, when that someday comes, you’ll be ready. I know, you don’t think so now. But, you didn’t think you could ever ride your bike without training wheels either. Remember how you screamed at us? How you flung your bike to the ground, shouting that it was stupid and so were we? Remember how you begged us not to let go of the seat, not even for a second? How long did that last? A couple of days? Now you speed to the end of the block and take your turns so fast that your inside pedal nearly scrapes the asphalt.
Someday you’ll call us to tell us about your new job, about how you got fired, about your girlfriend/boyfriend/engagement/divorce. Someday you’ll call to say that you’re buying a house, or that our grandchild is struggling in school. Someday you’ll tell us about the volunteer work you’re doing or your terrifying tax audit. Someday, you’ll ask for a loan or for a night of babysitting. And we’ll do our best to be there – our parents have been for us. But, if we are too far away or unable to help you, you’ll be okay. It’s all part of the master plan.
Now, about that homework…
Love always and forever, even (especially) when you hate me,