It is tough to be a parent today. I am sure that every generation of parents have said this but I do think in twenty or thirty years sociologists will look back and realize how incredibly difficult it was to parent after the turn of the century. I will be sitting in my rocking chair, nodding my head with its granny bun mumbling “I knew it!”
We were so fortunate to have “What to Expect When You Are Expecting.” Or so we thought. I truly think that was the beginning of the end for me. I am trained as an analyst and linear thinking works really well for me. ‘If A then B’ has always been my friend. If your child eats peanut butter before the age of 2 they are likely to die a horrible death. And it will be all your fault. You are the worst parent ever! If your child does not begin reciting Chaucer by the age of 3 then they will fail out of the human race before reaching formal education and die lonely and obscure. And it will be all your fault. You are the worst parent. EVER!
Now I may be misquoting some of the parenting books I have read, but in all honesty, the best parenting advice I ever got was from my mother-in-law. “Love them.” I don’t seem to recall reading that very often. Most books had a list of symptoms, problems or concerns and this is how you address this, if A then B. If you don’t do that, call 9-1-1 immediately. Not much about just love them as best you can and trust your intuition. (That little gem took me more years than I can count and two children to figure out.)
This entire industry of books, safety equipment, accessories, and must-have-accoutrements has trained us to view our infants and toddlers as amazingly fragile and precious beings who must be protected at all costs. Even from our own parenting.
True story… About a week after the 9-11 attacks, I was bringing my almost two year old daughter downstairs to get ready for work. I noticed a group of men in my front yard. I was immediately concerned. I put my daughter down on the floor and ran to the window. I then noticed their matching t-shirts and realized they were landscapers. With my heart settling back into my chest, I remembered my husband had hired them to drop off some landscaping material but had not told me they would be there that day. With a decidedly relieved feeling, I went into the kitchen to pack up some snacks. Next thing I knew my daughter was crying.
I ran over and she was sitting at the bottom of the steps crying big, fat, heart-breaking tears. It took me only a split second to realize that when I ran to the window, I had forgotten to re-latch the gate at the bottom of the steps; she had gone up them and fallen back down. Hoping to solve this problem as I had done for so many others, I did her favorite trick: had her stand up, which back then was a guaranteed way to get her to stop crying. (She was so amazed at her own ability she would stand there completely dazzled!) But no, not this time. She only cried harder. I was traumatized and heart sick, something was wrong with my baby!
I called the pediatrician immediately and practically flew to the office. Our pediatrician let me know she would need X-rays. You cannot imagine the remorse, guilt and shame I was feeling. WORST! MOTHER! EVER! How could I have turned my back on my precious baby? Even though I thought I was protecting her from potential terrorists. (Kind of funny now, not funny at all then.)
While I sat in her office, crying about my utter lack of parenting skills, the pediatrician, this woman who could settle my baby with no trouble, who bounced her around and answered every asinine question I threw at her knowledgeably and confidently, shared the best bit of information ever: Her own son fell out of his high chair while she had turned her back on him! Seriously, this was one of the best gifts I ever have received as a mom. Grace. God, I loved that woman!
Rest assured, my oldest was fine. I learned her bones were still pretty flexible and if there was a break it was so hairline it wasn’t noticeable. The specialist told me let her manage it on her own and she would start walking again when she was ready. She did and is fine today, no limp, no anger induced trauma (other than normal teenager “You’ve ruined my life!” stuff.)
When our children are born we are basically told to wrap them in bubble wrap. We don’t feed our babies anymore, we introduce foods. There is the great breast vs bottle debate which has separated friends and families. We have to cut food with an atom smashing Hadron Collider so they can’t possibly choke on a grape. They need tummy time, and read to them from day one, swaddle them, don’t swaddle them, on their backs, no, their bellies, decorate with black and red, no television, only educational television. The list is exhausting and unachievable. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my kids to choke. Or your kids. Or anyone’s kid to choke.
But this is the struggle, do all this for your child, but then. Then… When they reach that magic age, and who knows exactly what that magical age is, you need to step back. You drop your child at school or day care and you need to go. No, you cannot cut her sandwich into nanobites. No, she does not need me to sit with her and do her homework. No helicopter parenting. No snow plowing, no hovering. Let your child fail. Let them struggle.
This struggle has me screaming in my head, “Hello?! I have just spent the past five years wrapping this child in bubble wrap! Now you are telling me I need to take off the bubble wrap and hand her knives to juggle? Super! Who teaches me to undo all that I have taught myself after reading every parenting book on the planet?”
How hard is it to let go? To let them cross the street by themselves? To walk to a friend’s house that lives beyond where I can see? How hard is it to let them forget their lunch and not bring it to school knowing she will not eat the sandwich stand-by? How hard is it to let them struggle with homework? And friendship woes? Acceptance worries? To fail at something where you are not there with a giant net to buffer the landing?
Where are the books for this?
I go back to my mother-in-law. She was a simple woman. She had a high school degree and never had a job that I know of until her youngest child was in high-school. No fancy career, she had a job for some extra money. I don’t think many people would say she was an authority on much. But I want to tell you, she was right. If you start the answer to every question about parenting with love your kids, the rest will probably fall into place.
Worried about your kid who won’t give up the pacifier? Love him. Don’t shake his confidence. He isn’t going to go to college with a pacifier. And let some mouthy kid in kindergarten be the one to break his heart, not you. Worried about her school work? If she knows you will hug her with A’s or F’s, she is going to be okay. She will have the self-confidence to get up and keep trying. Crossing the street? Hug them, tell them take care, tell them you love them, and let go. Trust them, trust your intuition and trust God. Then close your eyes.