When I was a kid I thought my parents knew everything. By the time I was a teenager I thought they knew nothing. Now that I’m a parent I realize I was right, both times. I think knowing everything while knowing nothing is pretty much the reality of parenthood. Parenthood is basically getting thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggling to make it to the ladder. When you feel confident and you master swimming in the deep end of the pool someone throws you into the ocean. Parenthood is a constant struggle of convincing your kids that you do in fact know what you are doing all while doubting yourself every single day.
If you don’t doubt yourself are you really a parent? Don’t ask me. I spend most days flying by the seat of my pants. I tuck my kids in at night and I hope that I did an OK job. That’s right an OK job. When I had my first son, the idea of being an “OK parent” was out of the question for me. I was going to be a phenomenal parent. Sure. I was swimming in the pool and I was good at it, only the pool was calm and no one else was in it. Once I had my son I realized that the pool was full of tons of other swimmers and all of those swimmers had opinions on my swimming abilities.
To be honest now that my boys are out of the baby stage I find myself wondering more than I thought I ever would if I am going to be able to navigate each new uncharted territory of water we enter. The hopeful answer is yes, but the honest answer is, I’m not always so sure. Facebook has been kind enough to remind me on the regular with my “Facebook Memories” that the baby years are long gone. Gone are the days of napping, snuggling, snacking, and giggling within our own little bubble. We are in the elementary school days now and I have to tell you, they are going faster than I could have ever imagined they would. I’m not naïve; I know middle school and high school will be here in a hot second. That’s how this parenting thing works. The days are long but the years…well the years move fast.
Lately I’ve noticed that our family is so busy that the days are flying by and the months are moving at warp speed. My oldest son is eight and my youngest is five. There is something about my eight year old that has changed in the last year. I can see that a big change is upon us. I can see that I am about to get thrown from the pool into the ocean and I’m terrified.
He’s almost nine years old. Nine. Yet somehow I can close my eyes and remember the nurse putting him on my chest like it was yesterday. I can remember his little hand wrapping around my finger. I can remember whispering to him that I would never let anything or anyone hurt him, and I meant it. There is a change in the way both my husband and I treat him now. He has shifted from being a little kid to a boy. We expect more of him. He has responsibilities around the house. He is expected to get his homework done or baseball practice will just have to go on without him. He is expected to clear his plate after dinner. We remind him about doing his best and making us proud. We tell him not to cry when he is fighting with his brother about basketball. We tell him to toughen up. We tell him to be the big brother and give his brother a turn. We tell him not to get angry at his brother. We tell him not to cry. We flail around in the ocean making mistakes and hoping that we will be given another chance to learn how to swim.
Today I read yet another article about a heartbroken mother who lost her son to the epidemic of heroin. When I tell you it scares me I don’t really think that it accurately portrays how I worry about it. I know that no matter how much we try to protect our kids this is the one thing that can reach out and grab them without discriminating. Drugs don’t care that you took your child to toddler music classes. Drugs don’t care that your child was gifted in reading. Drugs don’t care that your child was a soccer, baseball, hockey, dancing, fill in the blank star. They don’t care. Drugs don’t care that in elementary school your child had everything going for them. Drugs don’t care that they were in the school play. Drugs don’t care that you used to be able to talk to them about anything and everything. Drugs don’t care that at one point you thought your ears were actually going to fall off from how much your child went on and on and on about anything and everything. Drugs literally don’t care about your Facebook memories.
Today when my son came home from school I talked to him for a while about his day. I took the time to listen. I really listened because if the OK parent in me is being honest, I don’t always listen. I often multitask. I look through their folders and empty their lunch boxes all while nodding along to the stories of the day. I give my kids a snack and have them do homework. I break up fights and tell them to stop crying.
I’ve been thinking about something a lot lately. Why are we telling our kids not to feel? Maybe you’re not guilty of this. I am though. I am so guilty of this, only I didn’t even realize it. It hit me like a ton of bricks that every time we tell our kids to stop crying, to toughen up, and to stop flipping out over what my husband and I perceive to be silly, we are in fact telling them to stop feeling. We are telling them that their emotions are not worthy. Every time they tell us they are bored we try to fix it. Maybe this is some of the problem. Maybe. I say this because obviously as I walk slowly into the water from the beach I can’t possibly already know what the parents out in the deep are dealing with.
I can’t help but think that kids need to feel boredom. They need to feel still. They need to feel the difference between being busy and being relaxed. Our kids need to feel sad. How can they ever appreciate being happy if we don’t allow them to embrace being sad? We all need a good cry every now and then. We need it. We are humans. We are meant to feel. Kids are anxious for a reason. We are telling them to stop. We are telling them to sit still, to be quiet, and to do their best. Their best? Their best is to be a kid. Their best is to be curious, anxious, sad, happy, angry, overwhelmed, silly, loud, and quiet. Their best is to be comfortable with who they are and know that we, as their parents will embrace them for it. Drugs allow people not to feel, the question is why are so many people afraid to feel? Let’s allow our kids to feel. Let’s embrace them for it. I’m not suggesting we allow kids to cry and punch, shout or laugh through their entire day. I’m suggesting that we allow them to navigate the baby pool in the best way they know how. I am suggesting that we allow them to feel scared, that we allow them to admit they don’t know if they are ready for the deep end and when they do, it may help to tell them that we didn’t always know how to swim.