Before I jump into this post, I wanted to take a second and explain the reason for my absence over the last few months. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write and no doubt about it, I’m feeling a little rusty and insecure. I’ve edited this post about a gazillion times and I’ve come to the realization that this confession is what it is and perhaps it’s not meant to be polished.
The last time I was here I had just found out that my 22 year old sister had been diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of liver cancer. “Shock and awe” are the only words I can use to describe the feelings I had in those early moments and yet they’re about as understated as it comes when trying to capture the gravity of something so tragic. I’ve been in a paralyzed sort of emotional stasis since then, stuck in playback mode at ground zero.
Coming here to write and share my life with you has always been a very cathartic exercise. I consider it my holy time to laugh off all of the imperfections of parenthood and my opportunity to indulge in sarcasm. But as you can imagine nothing seems that comical lately and Ive been lost in a terribly unfunny abyss. I’m slowly finding my way back to this sacred sanctuary but like I said I’m a bit out of practice and my heart and my mind are not always on speaking terms these days, so bear with me.
I’ve thought about far too much over the last few months. I’ve thought a lot about how deeply I hurt for my family. I’ve thought about how much more amplified this heartbreak is for me now that I myself am a parent. I ache for my mom and dad and what they have to endure as parents. And of course, I simply fall apart thinking of what my sister must be going through.
I also keep thinking about what it means to want to protect our kids from everything that could ever bring them pain or sorrow. Through this experience I’ve come to realize how heavy it can feel to be a parent at times; to subconsciously carry the weight of the world on our shoulders in order to keep our children from bearing the load or experiencing any form of discomfort. Ultimately, so much of the life we share with our children is out of our control so we do our best (and maybe even over compensate) to manage the things we can, taking painstaking care to protect them and ultimately ourselves from life’s day to day tribulations.
As parents we can spend a lot of time agonizing over how we can change it, take it away, make it better or never let it happen, whatever “it” is. We may constantly find ourselves trying to soften the fall, kiss the boo-boo or pick up the pieces and glue them back together. And almost impulsively, we intervene and try to save our kids from themselves and every other misstep that may come as a result of living in a world that isn’t perfect.
Most of us wake up every day and live out this protective manifesto because survival is written in our DNA. But more than anything we do it because we love our children with every fiber of our being and there is absolutely nothing worse in the world than watching them hurt. Emotionally, physically and spiritually, when our children suffer we suffer and our heart aches and nothing in the universe seems whole or fair. If only they knew how deeply we experience their hurdles and internalize their grief. I guess Elizabeth Stone was dead on when she said that “to be a parent is to forever watch your heart run around outside of your body”. Couldn’t agree more.
I feel like parenting is the ultimate lesson in vulnerability, plain and simple. Its about loving unconditionally without fear or regret, despite the fact that nothing in this beautiful life is guaranteed. We open ourselves up both literally and figuratively to joy, happiness, excitement, adventure and pride and yet we also put ourselves in a position of scrutiny, pain, frustration and sometimes and most unfortunately, loss. Being a parent is unpredictable, scary and sometimes utterly heartbreaking but the reward is so so spectacular.
I don’t want to get too carried away with the sadness of it all. More importantly I want to take the time in this confession tell you that you are a perfectly imperfect person and parent and that you are amazing. So often we beat ourselves up about all the “would have” “could haves” when it comes to our children, especially when things go wrong and we feel we could have somehow changed the course of a certain outcome. If only we had made better choices, different choices…perhaps things would be different. Perhaps those things that went wrong could have been avoided.
It’s a lot of pressure, don’t you agree? To think that our children’s entire lives, that their happiness and success and safety all boils down to the kind of cheese we provide them or the kind of music we allow them to listen to. And because we are ruled by the pretense that there is such thing as an omnipotent parent, whatever that means, is it possible that we can sometimes overcompensate and get caught up in doing things to show how hard we are trying to provide rose petal paths for our children?
More importantly, are we really helping our kids by diligently course correcting their lives? By ironing out all the wrinkles aren’t we just reinforcing how incapable they are at creating and working through their own journeys? Jen Nessel responds to this phenomenon in her article about “beta parents” and quite frankly I took a lot from her perspective on the downside to “hyper-parenting”. I’m not suggesting we take a completely “laissez faire” approach by letting our kids run wild like a scene out of Lord of the Flies. But does it really matter if our littles are formula fed or breast fed, eat exclusively organic food or fast food, go to play based schools or more traditional classroom settings, get 8.5 hours of sleep, brush their pearly whites every night and only associate with Harvard bound 3 year old kids?
Sure maybe it matters a little. But does it matter when shit hits the fan? Not really. What matters, in my very humble opinion, is how much you love them. Quality time matters. Knowing what makes them tick. Breathing them in, hugging them, listening to them, making an effort to understand them, playing with them and cherishing every moment. That’s what matters. It’s not about getting wrapped up in sheltering them or living for them and doing things to ensure their “success”, however you define that word.
I think (and let me reiterate, “I think”) it’s about growing them into people who feel confident knowing that our unconditional love can help them face and accept challenges when they arise. Perhaps it’s about getting caught up in the “beingness” not the “doingness”, as my husband so often likes to say.
In other words, be present for them. Don’t try to shelter them from loss or failure because in the end, while we might be able to steer them away from a bad friendship or keep them from failing a math test, we can’t protect them from everything. And perhaps that’s not our purpose, to protect them from everything. Maybe they were supposed to learn a valuable life lesson from that friend you can’t stand, even if it means they might end up slighted in the end. Or maybe they were supposed to fail that test and feel the disappointment in their lack of effort. Perhaps our ultimate purpose is to do one thing and one thing only – love them. Don’t live for them or through them. Trust in their abilities and live WITH them.
These are my very scattered and random thoughts for the day. I hope you all enjoyed your Memorial Day. I hope you had a few drinks. I hope you let your kids eat nuclear looking mac n cheese 😉
Hug your littles. Shit – hug everyone. Relax. Enjoy. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is too short.
– The Confessioness