My parenting style has evolved with each child. In the beginning, I thought it was my job to protect my children in such a way that nothing bad would ever happen to them. When my oldest was born, any signal of discomfort was catered to. It wasn’t long before that little boy knew exactly what to do in order to get his mama to come to the rescue. Crying? Not on my watch. Sleeping? I got none.
By his first birthday, our babysitter casually mentioned he was getting a little big for his pacifier. So we pulled the plug. For three days, there was crying, kicking and screaming. Jacob was upset too. As much as I wanted to give in, especially when he’d cry, “My paci, mama. I need my paci. Peassss,” I knew we’d be going through the same thing at a later date. Only next time, I wouldn’t have the advantage. He would know my hand before the cards were dealt. If things got unbearable I considered taking my younger sister’s advice to tell him monsters live in his paci.
When he started school, homework became the bane of my existence. It would have been easier to moderate a Clinton/Trump or a Trump/Anyone else on the planet debate than argue with my 7-year-old about spelling words. One afternoon he begged, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do if I can watch television for 30 minutes. Then I promise to finish my words.” I agreed. He didn’t.
That Friday, I looked through his graded papers. His spelling test was on top with “60” in bold, red ink. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his teacher wrote a short note. “FYI, Jacob can do much better. Maybe less television would help? He said he didn’t finish his spelling homework because his mom wanted him to watch ‘Ed, Ed and Eddie.’ ”
Instead of writing back, “I’m so sorry. Jacob is a liar. We will be seeing a specialist about it very soon,” I decided a simple, “We’ll work on it” would be better. The next day when he complained about homework, I sent him to his room. He was ecstatic until he discovered his room was now void of his favorite toys. Toys he had to earn back. Never has a Yu-Gi-Oh! card held so much power.
In junior high, he wasn’t invited to a classmate’s party. I went into a panic because I couldn’t figure out a way to make him feel better about being left out. I worried being rejected would scar him for life. It was like going through adolescence all over again. And I hated it the first time. All of those awkward feelings of unworthiness I’d stuffed down with the help of Oreos, pizza and cheap wine, came bubbling to the surface as soon as I found out that my kid wouldn’t be immune to the trials of growing up. That as likeable as he was, there would be some insane little douche canoe who may not like him. He would experience what all kids experience at one point or another … life. I wanted to rescue him. I wanted to tell those “cool kids” how peaking in junior high is not that hard, but since I didn’t peak in junior high, or high school, or college, or adulthood, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even look their way. Mostly because Jacob begged me not to.
Before entering high school, he decided NOT to try out for the basketball team. I couldn’t believe it. He played on his school team for the past four years. He went to every practice, every game, participated in every fundraiser — I still have 40 tubs of frozen cookie dough. Even though his position all four years was third seat from the coach on the bench, he still loved it. I was the one who hated it. I left every game furious because he never got more than 30 seconds of playing time. I wanted to tell him to quit the team. It wasn’t worth it. How would his experience “playing” on a team affect his self-esteem later on? Would he be scarred for life? Would he always feel “not good enough”?
Instead he decided cross country and track were more his speed.
One day when my youngest was just a toddler, I told a dear friend that I thought it was my job to make sure my kids never know what it’s like to feel rejected, awkward, or sad. She smiled and said, “That’s a good plan. So long as you’re good with them living at home for the next three or four decades.”
At every turn, it seems I have to rethink the whole “scarred for life” term. Maybe scars aren’t always a bad thing. Scars can hold our stories. If my boys never experience rejection, disappointment, or a broken heart before adulthood, how will they know that even after life’s biggest disappointments, things can, and often do, get better. Yes, it’s hard to see our kids in pain without trying to fix it. On the other hand, it would be a lot harder to watch a 40-year-old man sitting on my couch, eating a bowl of cereal and laughing at reruns of “SpongeBob Square Pants.”