To my friends with young children, I would love to tell you that parenting gets easier when they get older. Except that’d be a lie.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that even though you will make mistakes, even though you’ll find yourself wishing you’d been a better parent sooner, you’ll also discover that it’s never too late to start being a better parent. It’s easy, when your kid has to lean down to hug you, to tell yourself you’ve missed the boat. A sinister voice whispers in your ear that the ship has sailed. You no longer have the authority or ability or influence you need to help them become a healthy, happy adult.
That’s a lie, straight from the pit of Hell. Just because your kid is a young adult or teen, you’re still their parent. In fact, even when they leave the nest, you still have a lot of influence. God knows there are times at age 41 when I still wish my mom was around to ask for advice or just turn to for help. You know when my mom lost her ability to help influence my life? When she died, and not a minute sooner. In fact, in some ways she’s still influencing me to live my life for the better, almost ten years after her death.
Another encouraging thing? You don’t have to make the same parenting choices yours made. You actually can learn from their mistakes, without it meaning you think they were sucky parents. Even great parents make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the whole parenting gig. Recognizing the ones yours made with you isn’t a wholesale condemnation of their child-rearing skillz.
Here’s another thing I learned this month. Caring, engaged parents capable of standing firm and making tough calls are in short supply. If you’re one of them, you will find kids who lacked that kind of support are drawn to you. Especially, they’ll be drawn to your kids. You will want to help those kids. You will do your best to help them. But kids who aren’t used to hearing “No,” who never had a sense of security and support at home, and who are desperately looking outside themselves for a sense of self worth aren’t good relationship material.
You may reach a point where you have to rescue your kid from the unbearable pressure of being someone else’s Rescuer. You may have to step in and be the Bad Guy because your kid is afraid of the consequences of ending an unhealthy relationship. Especially if the boyfriend or girlfriend has resorted to “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself” threats. It will be hard, especially if you genuinely want to help the person who is drowning, and determined to suffocate your kid on the way down.
It will be even harder if that kid’s parents, not used to actually dealing with problems, decide that the easiest thing would be to pressure you to force your kid to stay in a relationship that clearly isn’t healthy for either kid. They may pull out every manipulative, blaming, “If my kid ends up hurting herself/himself, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!” script in the Perpetual Victim Handbook. They will completely fail to see that asking your kid to be their kid’s entire reason for living is the problem, not the solution. After all, it’s such a quick fix and it doesn’t cost them a thing.
All of this will be exhausting. You will be mostly unable to talk about it. Your friends and coworkers will wonder why you look so freaking whipped lately.
You will be tempted to spill dirt and name names online. You will be tempted to get nasty and vicious in the defense of your kid (at least, you will if you’re me). You may be forced to call the police. Possibly more than once.
You will second guess your decision to let your kid date this kid in the first place, especially if the other kid is older. You will second guess your decision to give the other kid a second (or third) chance, when the problems first became apparent. When it was no longer okay with the other kid for your kid to have other friends, other interests, or a life outside their relationship.
If you are very blessed, sisters and friends will reassure you that giving people a chance is not a moral failing. They will remind you that by the time you intervened, your kid was on your side instead of fighting you. They will remind you that the fact that your kid didn’t stay entranced by the ego-boost of being someone else’s entire universe speaks well of both your kid, and your parenting.
You will wish, once again, your mom and grandparents were still here.
If you are incredibly blessed, you and your spouse will be fully on the same page and willing to deal with it together. You will hug each other a lot. You will remember why you picked this person to be your partner and best friend. You will be ridiculously grateful for what the two of you have learned about what is and isn’t a healthy relationship. You will realize that he is the reason you know what a healthy, loving relationship actually looks like.
When it is all done, you will look at your several friends who are dealing with newborns and pregnancy. You will remember the sleepless nights caused by feedings and changing diapers, instead of a nineteen year old having a meltdown on your front lawn, beating on your kid’s window and screaming. You will remember labor and delivery and scraping the poor kid’s bald head on a candy basket at a convenience store, convinced you were the Worst. Parent. Ever.
You will realize that you wouldn’t trade places, with your younger self or your friends dealing with babies, even if you could. Not because being the parent of a newborn is easier. Just because this place, with all its new dangers and challenges, is where you’re supposed to be.
This is your life, your present, and you want to be present in it. You fought too hard to get here to even think about going back.