Thursday, November 10, 2011

Letting Them Fall

Anyone who says parenting is easy is a liar. A big, fat, lying liar who wears big, fat, lying liar pants. And those pants? They are on fire. They are ablaze, such is the magnitude of the lying! Parenting is hard. Harder than math, even. It's the hardest job you'll ever love. Or love to hate. Or hate so much that you'll want to consume vast quantities of alcohol so that you can forget that you hate it. Or something.

My point is, that parenting, while awesome and worthwhile and amazing, is sometimes a damned if you do, damned if you don't proposition.

This week has given me a couple of parenting dilemmas that leave me feeling anxious and angry and guilty and inept. (Wow! Would you like some coffee with that angst?) On the one hand, I want what's best for my children. I want to hand them all that is good on a velvety pillow stuffed with the fluff of a thousand blessings. I want them to have more than I did. And while I didn't grow up with everything, I had plenty--less than some, more than others, just right for me. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

On the other hand, I want them to understand that if I really did hand them all that good stuff on the fluffy stuffed pillow, life wouldn't really be all that great. Sometimes the sweat and toil and tears from the battering that life gives make you more appreciative of the final result. So, yes, I guess what I'm saying is that I want my kids--on occasion, and please God, not in big, horrifying, hard to handle ways--to fail.

But sweet cracker sandwiches! Letting them take that fall is hard. Watching them stroll toward the edge of the cliff is tough. Warning them that the edge of the cliff is there and having them disregard your warnings is anxiety producing. Seeing them teeter on the edge brings panic. You want to throw out your arms to catch them. You want to throw out every safety net in your personal arsenal of Parental Safety Gear. And seeing them finally plunge over the side, makes you want to take a running leap over the side as well so that you will gain enough velocity to hit the ground first so that they might find you waiting at the bottom, giving them a softer landing.

Unfortunately, as parents, we can't always do this. There are times when letting them take the fall is the better, but agonizingly harder, option. Harder than going through 1,000 hours of labor with no drugs, harder. Harder than receiving millions of paper cuts all over one's body and then being forced to do 100 laps in an Olympic sized pool filled with lemon juice harder. Harder than having to listen to Kenny G while getting one's teeth drilled with no Novocaine, harder. It's the kind of hard that makes you wish you could trade places with them and take on whatever is coming to them.

It hurts. Watching your child endure pain is difficult. Watching them endure pain that they could have avoided is really difficult.

But sometimes, you have to let them take that fall. You have to let them teeter on that edge and make their own decisions. You have to watch them plunge over the edge and wait for the sickening thud. And you pray. You pray, and you pray, and you pray. And you know that the recovery will be tough. You know that your child's anguish at their decision will be grueling for you both. But you also hope that in the end, the fall will be a lesson. You hope that in allowing your child to make the decision, that in letting them stagger, flailing over the edge, they will find those places in their lives that need extra caution. You hope that they will discover those paths that they don't really want to proceed down again. You hope that they will get up, dust themselves off, and that the injuries will be minor enough to leave only small scars that prompt them to choose the right course the next time.

Parenting is a hard. I'm told that even when your children are grown, sometimes it's still tough. And even though I sometimes dream of living on a tropical island where my only problem would be deciding which cocktail to choose, I would never, ever willingly give up this job. And that's the truth.

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