Wednesday, October 26, 2016

When it's not about the kids, it's about the parents.

I don’t know how it happened but I’m the mother of a teenager. It occurs to me that I only have five years left to teach her everything she needs to know to survive on her own. That’s scary as hell given that my 11 year old recently informed me he has no idea what a fitted sheet is.

This has all led me to acknowledge that I might have an over-parenting problem. The older my kids get, the worse I become. It’s not just changing their sheets. I feel the urge to insert myself into situations that I know I should stay out of. I see it in other parents too; on the ball field, on social media, at Back to School night. It’s endemic. I see kids looking to their parents to solve their problems and adults making things worse by jumping in. And every time I see it happen, I think the same thing:

This isn't about the kids, it’s about the parents.

It takes one to know one and I'm guilty of this as well. I still carry around my own adolescent baggage and as I watch my kids go through middle school, I struggle not to project my fears onto their experiences. But I mean, DAMN. Those years were some of the hardest of my life. I remember the pleasure others took in being unkind to me, and how the weakest and most vulnerable in our collective herd were targeted. I think about my own behavior, which ranged from awkward to horrible. I recall trying to make my parents and teachers understand the struggle. The frustration that vibrated through my bones, down to my very cells, that it was not fair. 

I see my children’s bodies hum with the same frustration now. I see them experiencing the kind of painful self-consciousness that hits you in middle school and leaves an indelible mark. I watch these kids interact with each other, newly careful not to expose themselves to criticism or slights. I consider that to a certain degree, I’ve never outgrown those feelings.

My name’s Blurry Face and I care what you think.

Is that what’s happening when we over-mom and engineer situations concerning our kids? Are we acting on our own insecurities? Are our identities so entwined with our kids’ that we can’t separate them? I understand that in an uncomfortably familiar way. From the time my children were tiny, I felt so connected to them that even our pronouns merged - it was always “us”. Everything that happened to them, was also happening to me. Now every year that passes, though I still feel the tug of that long cut cord, they move further into their own lives.  That struggle, of knowing when to back off and when to step in, is starting to define this stage of being of being their mom. 

I no longer always know when to get involved. Sometimes it's very clear that an adult is needed, and I step in without hesitation. But sometimes it's fuzzy. Usually, my brain wins and I encourage my kids to handle their own problems, offering to be their back-up if needed.

But when a situation arises and one of them is left out, or passed over, or shit on - I feel that familiar frustrated buzz in my bones, the shared pain aching in all new ways because it’s happening to them. That’s when my intellectual response, the one that knows over-parenting is the wrong choice, gets slapped soundly across the face by my emotional response, the one that says: 

I will not let anything hurt you. 

When my oldest daughter was an infant, she had a febrile seizure. My husband and I rushed her to the hospital, terrified we would lose her. I called a friend, a pediatrician, who spoke to the nurse and calmly told me that everything would be all right. “She’ll be completely fine in the morning”, he said. “And you’ll be scarred for life.” 

My daughter doesn’t remember that night - but I’ll never forget it. For a time, I was terrified of her getting sick again and for weeks, we barely left the house. I would’ve gladly kept her in a protective bubble, but as my husband told me at the time, “We can’t do that because it’s crazy.”

It was also the worst thing I could’ve done for her tiny immune system. If my goal was to watch her become a hearty, healthy kid who could survive a fever - then keeping her so safe from germs that her body would never learn how to fight them really was nuts. Having a healthy child means that sometimes they’ll get sick.

Maybe it’s the same thing now? Though it goes against every protective instinct I have; the urge to (s)mother my children with love in the few years I have left with them, to do anything to keep them safe, to clear their paths. But if my goal is to watch them become independent, respectful (and respectable) adults, then I have to step back and let them handle things for themselves. Even if it means that sometimes they’ll get hurt. It's not really about me - or at least it shouldn't be. It's about them.


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