** Special note: I write this with the intent and experience of my parenting journey. In no way is it meant to be hurtful to those families who have had severe and devastating struggles. Those of my friends that have endured this, my heart goes out to you all. Each and everyone. I know the names of all of your babies. I say them every day. I know how your heart hurts and that life will never be the same. This essay is genuinely written from only my perspective. It is just a simplified version of what I am going through with no intent to demean or diminish other people’s experiences.**
People mean well when they tell their harrowing labor stories, or crazy parenting moments, or offer their warnings about parenting teenagers, or offer advice and layout the total cost of raising a child. I remember all the breastfeeding, diaper changing, labor giving, toddler disciplining, Happiest Baby on the Block sharing, and all it did was exhaust me. Mostly made me feel pretty inadequate as a parent. So I stopped paying attention to what other people were doing, followed my gut instincts and did the best I could. That is what I am still doing. Now, people keep telling me parenting teens is the hardest. They mean well, I get it. But, just like the advice in the earlier years, I don’t think I am going to buy into it.
Before I had children, everyone would tell me you don’t know what you are getting into; your life is going to be so different. You are never ready for what is going to happen. When I held my son in my arms for the first time, my whole body shifted into mom mode. I had waited my entire life for that moment. Everything before was just practicing for that moment. Was I scared? Of course. I mean, duh. Brian and I got home looked at each other and looked at the helpless little human in my arms and knew we were going to have to wing it. We knew it was going to be harder than anything we had ever done before and we knew there wasn’t a rule book or guide that was tailored to us.
Regardless of whatever outside advice or stories I heard from other novice or experienced mothers, from day one with my babies, somewhere in me, I knew I could do it, and I knew I would know best, no matter what. Of course, it was scary, and I worry through every single step.
I remember being terrified they would stop breathing when I wasn’t looking or that they were going to have some severe food allergy, or illness, or God forbid, based on every book known to man, they would be less than in every way because they were formula fed. I worried about their psyche since I rocked them to sleep every single night and did not believe in letting them cry it out. Come on; there is enough crying in life already. But most of all, I loved being a mom to my babies. They way they smelled after a bath, the rocking to sleep, watching milestones be reached, hearing them laugh for the first time. Not sleeping was rough, but it was also so sacred and special to have those moments in the silence with them.
When they survived infancy, walking became the next terrifying event. There are stairs everywhere people. Everything seemed to have sharp corners, and my goodness floor tile is so freaking hard. Each place became an obstacle course of sharp edges, hard surfaces, and steep falls. But it was also miraculous to watch them take those first steps; to see the wonder on their faces as they were able to start exploring the world at their own pace.
After we survived walking – and running; I won’t even go there – with just a few bumps and bruises it was play-dates at the park. I know, I know those sound fun, but when the kids were little toddlers, my heart was in constant panic mode. Some moron believed it was a good idea that at the tippy, tippy top of the play structure next to the very best tube slide there needed to be an opening with a 20-foot drop. I mean who in HOLY HELL designs these things?! Regardless of the pitfalls and obstacle courses of doom; parenting a toddler was way more than amazing. The talking, the stories, the imaginative play, the silly and hilarious things that would come out of their mouths. Watching each one develop their personality, sense of style and interpret the world around them.
Then it’s preschool and the agony of leaving your child and then watching like a stalker behind two-way glass wondering why the hell they have to go to preschool anyway. I mean really. And it was hard to send them off to preschool because I enjoyed being around them; I hated missing anything about their life.
After that is kindergarten. There are no two-way windows there. You are left to leave and wonder what the heck is going on in there. Thank goodness you can volunteer. But still, you are left wondering: Is the playground safe? How good are the background checks? What kind of kids are in there? So many emotions. How can we possibly survive all the feelings – friendships happening or not, learning and the rate at which it is happening; learning disabilities, differences, and how are we going to survive 6 hours without our baby? Because I loved being with them. Teaching them numbers, the alphabet, counting, reading books and exploring the world with them.
But while you are worrying about all of that they somehow make their entire way through infancy, toddler-hood, pre-school, and elementary school. Then middle school happens. You have to watch as your child walks off into that new territory all by themselves because “No one else’s mom is walking them on campus!” And at this place, there are kids holding hands, kissing, youtube-ing, social media-ing, conducting unsupervised google searches – and if you are monitoring all of this as best you can as a parent and limiting it you also are now so uncool and the worst parent that ever lived! Or at least your kid thinks so. Plus, when you monitor the damn text messages you always find something you wish you hadn’t. It is not a win-win, ever.
I am sure this continues through high school and adulthood. We will never stop worrying. Believe me; we just went to the first high school rally preparing for next year, and the fears keep growing. Tumbling into my mind before I can stop them. Plus my dear husband thinks it’s reassuring for me to know that we won’t always like how our kids behave. It never makes me feel better hearing that.
From the beginning, I think we are learning to let go. Learning how to navigate a world where we want our children to grow and thrive, but still be shielded just enough to have a happy childhood.
So far parenting a teen has been just as rewarding and wonderous as parenting an infant or a toddler. Sure, I don’t get cuddles and conversations may veer into topics including sex, drugs, and violence in our world, but watching my children grow into courteous, educated, friendly, intelligent, curious youth with great ideas about how to contribute to their communities is beyond anything I ever imagined. We discuss novels, politics, rules, family dynamics, and I get a front row seat to watch them fly. Giving them room to grow is hard; I may have had some helicopter tendencies with my first one, but I think we all do. Having three more kids easily cured that. Each step they took away from me, to explore the world was preparing me to help give them that room to grow and thrive. It is terrifying at times, but our relationships are healthy and meaningful. I trust them. They have given me every reason to.
I know parenting is really about growing children into amazing adults – at least that is our goal. We are truly learning to let go from day one. But just because we are teaching them to fly doesn’t mean that one stage is harder than the next or that they grow entirely away from us; it is just the way things are. Being a mom is still my most treasured gift regardless of the stage. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.