Yesterday I brought my youngest daughter for allergy testing. And I sat in the room with her while the nurse pricked the length of her arms with needles. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t take the test for my child. I couldn’t stop her arms from bleeding. And I couldn’t stop her arms from itching and burning.
As a parent, seeing my kids suffer is so tough. I think it’s because we’re programmed to protect our children. For thousands of years parents needed this instinct in order to protect their children from predators. Now, of course, there aren’t any saber tooth tigers or even mountain lions waiting around the corner to pounce on my kids. But there are other threats. So, we certainly still need that instinct.
But it’s much stronger than it has to be. And I think that’s why some parents become helicopter parents – parents who are constantly hovering over their kids. They have to be heavily involved with their kids’ lives because something deep inside of them is screaming: “protect, protect, protect!” We all hate to see our kids suffer and we think we can protect them from harm and sometimes it feels like we have to overprotect them.
I used to struggle with this too. Being a single-parent makes it even harder.
It’s easy to fall into the trap. Especially when a child is struggling. It’s easy to just switch back into the same mode as when our kids were toddlers and they depended on us for everything. It’s easy to symbolically pick our kids up and put them into playpens.
But I figured out that it’s not my job to protect my kids from everything. In fact, it’s part of my job to let my kids spread their wings and try to fly on their own. I have to let them make mistakes. Yes or course, I can be there with love to help when they trip and/or fall down, but it’s not my job to stop them from making mistakes. If it were then I wouldn’t be preparing them for the real world.
Now, I’m not saying I just let my 16-year-old come and go as he pleases. And I don’t just let him go to unsupervised parties where there is alcohol and drugs. The alcohol and drugs thing is majorly on my radar because I know my kids could potentially have the addiction gene. (Their mom was in rehab twice before her 17 birthday.) So, I am careful not to let my kids run wild.
It’s not easy either. And I know I’m not perfect.
I mean, when does “not letting my kids run wild” turn into being a helicopter parent? I am constantly reassessing where my level of trust is with my kids and how responsible I see them being. Honestly, my 14-year-old is far more trustworthy and responsible than my older child. So, she has almost as much freedom as her older sibling. Is that wrong? I’m not sure. But I keep looking at it and I keep trying to do the right thing.
Just a couple weeks ago my older kid went through a bit of a messy break-up (Aren’t they all at least a bit messy?) and it was heartbreaking to see him crying and heartbroken. And there was nothing I could do except love him and sit in the shit with him. That’s it. And it’s such a helpless feeling. But it’s part of being a parent of teenagers and it sure beats the alternative.
So when he decided to go back out with the girl, I did advise him to try to take it slow and to be careful about trusting her again. But I also told him it was his choice and his journey and his life.
And that’s the point. Right? That’s what I’ve figured out.
It is his journey. It’s his life. And it’s my daughter’s journey and her life too. And the greatest way they will learn is through failing. Pain is the greatest teacher we all have. And I know my kids are smart enough to learn from their mistakes. And I also know I’ll be there to love them and to give advice when they need it.
I mostly learned this lesson through my own pain. When my kid was struggling last year I wanted so badly to be able to force him to make better decisions. I saw the train that was coming down the tracks. And I warned him. And I begged him. But only he could stop that train. And he made the choice not to do so. And he suffered the consequences. And he learned. So did I.
I learned that it isn’t my job to protect my kids from pain. Not only because it stunts their growth but also because I have no idea what the future will bring. I have no idea what their journey is supposed to look like or where its leading. I have no idea. So, all I can do is love my children unconditionally and unselfishly and trust that my love will show me the way. I just need to live from that place of love and not from the place of fear that has been instilled in all parents over thousands of years.
To my surprise, I was okay watching my youngest daughter go through the testing yesterday. I sat across from her and a few times she looked at me with a little fear and I locked eyes with her and hardened my face along with her. And we both quickly realized that the testing wasn’t all that painful. And my daughter proved (once again) that she is incredibly tough. The test – with the pricking and the needles and the blood – barely phased her. The hardest part for her was finding out she’s allergic to dogs (along with a type of mold and a couple types of trees).
And that’s the lesson, right? All of our kids are very strong. And getting stronger. And growing and becoming adults. And pain is coming to teach them and to teach us. Because that’s life. And that’s okay.