When my husband and I decided to have a baby reactions to my pregnancy usually included a story or some bit of advice. A horrific three-day labor without drugs, a sister-in-law/cousin/friend who barely made it to the hospital in time, or how once I met the baby I would want to be a stay at home mom. And so on.
One reaction I never understood was the malicious and gleeful recounting of the many ways that “your life will never be the same”: no more going out to shows, no more hanging out with friends, no more fun of any kind. No more tablecloths – this was from my mother-in-law and I still don’t know why she said it.
I distinctly remember one of my sister-in-laws cackling while she said, “Now you’re gonna see what its like!” Why yes, yes I will.
I think people forget that “life as you know it” is over all the time. Yeah adding a human to your life is a big change but so is graduating HS, changing jobs, moving out, breaking up. Burying folks close to you. It’s just life.
The really secret part of parenting that no one tells you about because it would result in a rapid population decline, is that you actually have no control. Zero.
Once they leave your body you suspect – but it takes a while to believe – that you can’t actually protect your child or keep them safe. Safety is an illusion perpetuated by parenting books and the advertising industry. Parents cling to this illusion as long as they can, sometimes through the pre-teen years.
Car seats and helmets, rules and regulations, pesticide-free organic foods are all ways to try to impact that which (you think) is under your control. Actions to help soothe the “am I a good enough parent” panic that gets you by the throat every now and again. Foundational actions that, like calcium for building strong bones, you hope will pay off in the long run.
The truth is, baring outright neglect and abuse, you can’t stop life from happening to your kid no matter how much you might try. You can’t cushion the blows, or keep your kid from being buffeted, or hurt. There is nothing you can do to prevent the fights with friends, the breakups, or the disappointments. The best you can do is patch them up when it’s over and toss them back in the game.
Maybe not literally. My daughter is still furious that I made her get back in the game after she got popped in the mouth with a softball. It was a chipped tooth and a little blood on the shirt I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but she clearly did.
My husband and I knew we didn’t have real control when the kid was 12 and wanted a FaceBook page. You’re supposed to be thirteen to have a FaceBook but “all her friends” lied about their age to get one. We told her we would prefer she not sign up until she was 13, but that we knew we couldn’t stop her from signing up without our permission. She didn’t.
The Honor System takes the place of outlet covers and baby gates.
On the opposite end it soon becomes clear that you can’t make them do anything once they are cognizant and mobile. We want the kid to get good grades, we expect the kid get good grades, but all the consequences in the world are not going to make the kid study or write a decent essay. And you just have to hope that when they leave the house in the morning they are not ducking into a friends house and changing into a burqa.
The honor system, trust and believing they are smart enough to make their own decisions are the meager tools left in our parenting box.
Intrinsic motivation is in the teenager driver seat. Parents are just along for the ride. Harder than 2 am feedings, toilet training or letting them walk without holding your hand, it is damn hard to not be a back seat driver.
No one tells you that part.