Monday, January 9, 2012

I've decided to quit parenting.

OK, that's an exaggeration.

In my head, though, I FEEL as if I'm quitting parenting. Because I'm supposed to be SuperMom. The woman who can make a grilled cheese for breakfast (because that's the only thing he'll eat), pack lunches to hopefully make up for the lousy breakfast, check on, help with and sign homework, drive to tumbling class and "ooh and ahh" over the latest flip or twist, find Vans shoes on sale because he likes them even though I think name brands are silly, create a dinner out of nothing (tonight it was mozzarella sticks, apples with the peels cut off and cinnamon raisin toast), praise the good stuff, discipline the bad stuff, teach what I know, love what I've got and remember to unload big and little boy pockets so things don't go bump in the laundry.

And I'll probably continue to do those things - like all moms do. But thanks to years of therapy, lots of soul searching and some long discussions with another SuperMom of four children (my mom), I've decided that my New Year's resolution is to BACK THE HELL OFF. Back off from being that helicopter parent (yes, I've denied that title for years, but after seeing how other parents roll, I think I'm definitely flying high), back off from being a human shield from any and every disappointment that my children may encounter, back off from trying to ensure that there are no failures, no wrong decisions, no repercussions.

Because in doing those things, I'm failing them as a parent. And I hate to fail. So I quit.

It's time to realize that in trying to rescue my kids from any possible bad thing that could happen to them, I'm actually not helping them set themselves up to be adults. Think about it. The person you are today is, in part, due to how you were raised. But what really shaped you is what you discovered through trial and error. The decisions you made - good and bad. The trials you went through that made you stronger. The effort you had to expel - mentally,  physically and spiritually - to find your way out of any given situation. And the wisdom you gained by the whole process.

So I'm backing off. My mom calls it "tough love". (Tougher on me than them, I think.) It's not always catching them when they fall. It's putting in your two cents, then stepping aside and letting them make their own decision, regardless of whether or not I think it's what I would do, or what they should do. It's knowing the consequences and biting your tongue and letting them experience it for themselves.

I'm still trying to gauge when to back off and when to step up. When to sit on the side of the pool, when to dip my toe in, and when to plunge feet-first into the deep end, life preserver in hand. I think it's on a case-by-case basis. Recently I intervened in my son's school schedule - adding a class that I, his counselor and teacher thought he should take. It was for his benefit. It made sense. It would help him in the long run. He would be good at it and meet new friends. It would all be fine.

He didn't want to do it. He liked his schedule just fine. He didn't care what it would do for his future. It didn't make sense to him. He didn't want to meet new people.

Instead of forcing the issue (which I would have normally done), I sat him down and said, "This is why I think you should do this. This is why I think it might be detrimental if you don't do this. This is why I think you don't want to do this. Now it's up to you." He changed his schedule back - to my dismay. But somehow, knowing that I voiced my opinion and did the whole "what's best for you" speech acted kind of like a disclaimer in my favor. Not in an "I told you so" way, but in a "next time think of this" way. We'll see.

My mom equated this "tough love" to a saying she has hanging on her wall. I think I gave it to her years ago, before I was a parent. I either thought it was cool, or was trying to tell her to back the hell off. I don't remember. Ironically, when I asked her to send me the verbiage, she mentioned that it is attributed to Erma Bombeck, one of my favorite writers:

"Children are like kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you're both breathless - they crash - you add a longer tail  -  they hit the roof top - you pluck them out of the spout - you patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they'll fly! Finally they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out and with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant and somehow you know that it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and soar as it was meant to soar - free and alone." My mom says she likes to add the line, "Still you stand by and wait - just in case they need rescue from a kite-eating tree or a fierce wind."

I hate flying kites. I'm always afraid something is going to go wrong - like the string will break and the kite will sail off into the trees, out of my control - and stuck - with me standing there and not being able to do anything about it. On the other hand, I'm not sure what good it would do if the kite got stuck while I was still hanging on to the string - not much I can do there, either, other than shake it in frustration and mutter some select curse words and vow never to fly another kite again.

And the big stuff? The small, less life-changing decisions are hard enough. I don't know how I'll handle letting them really face the music for their decisions versus trying to make it all better. I know there could be some bad juju that comes down the line. So I'm starting small.  But if I make every decision for them, and bail them out of any negative situation, they'll never learn. They'll never be strong. They'll never know the depth of their consequences, and the agony of making the hard decisions.

And... they'll never leave the house.


  1. My (crazy) sister in law recently said in a conversation that kids who move away from home when they turn 18 are the result of bad parenting... unfortunately, I didn't have the guts (balls) to tell her how wrong she was... or to ask her why her own son moved 11 hours away as soon as he could... AND didn't come home for Christmas this year.

  2. Yay Amy!!!! I'm so happy for you! I promise you (sort of) that your kids will turn out JUST FINE. You wouldn't BELIEVE the parenting I did, (or didn't) get. And check me out, I rock! Sure, I'm goofy, zany, unpredictable and I definitely have my share of bad moments. In fact, some people might think I'm flighty and a total ditz.

    But you know what? I'm resilient, adaptable, good at thinking on my feet and some might say I even have a certain je ne sais quois. Also? I regularly give life the middle finger. Because if I don't? I just won't respect myself. My life has been FULL of "lessons learned", and I'm a better person for it. I'm just really good at hiding my wisdom behind a goofy laugh, because being serious is SO AWKWARD.



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