As parents, we want our children to be understood in all of their complexity. We don't want them to be judged by that tantrum in the supermarket checkout lane or the surly outburst at their team's loss or that power trip at playgroup. We want for them what most of us want for ourselves - to be known. We want people to see them as we see them, as complete people with gifts and challenges. But sometimes, in our worst moments, we are unable to do this ourselves. We turn our kids' bad habits into character traits, see their quirks as hindrances, view each questionable choice they make as a harbinger of doom. You know I do this because I have imagined my children with video game addictions, stealing my Social Security checks and eventually ending up in prison. Do I really believe these things? No, of course not - I am simply working through my fear. I get scared because, in my work, I see the worst. I see the families that fall apart. I see the children who steal from their parents and neglect them. I see adult children and parents at odds - the kids angry about their past and the parents angry about the present. I know that not all families are like the families I work with but I also know that I had issues with my mother that affected our relationship and still impact me today. Our neighbors recently had twins and brought them by for us to meet them (Hello Heather and Thomas!). As I stared into those gorgeous little baby faces, I found myself thinking that babies are so easy which surprised me because I clearly remember thinking the opposite when my own kids were tiny. What I realized in that moment is that I always expected that raising children would get easier over time. I imagined that, as their independence increased, my role would diminish but that's not true. Our roles simply change with time. When your kids are babies, you feed them and change their diapers and hold them and comfort them and try to get them to sleep. It's hard. Absolutely. But when they become older, the holding and comforting parts become more complicated. A friend once told me that having children would break my heart open in ways that nothing else would and, oh, how right she was. Parenting requires you to navigate the tempestuous seas of your childrens' emotions in a leaky row boat with a broken oar. And don't even think about there being a life vest in that boat! There are none. When your child doesn't get invited to that awesome party...when she loses a paper that is due the next day...when your children want things that you don't want them to have...when you come to a fork in the road and you must choose which path your child will take...you stick that broken paddle in the rough water, hope that you don't capsize and pray that the blurry speck in the distance is actually the shoreline.
Our world is one of snap judgments. Few of us are ever seen in our complexity. Your kid might be the whiner. Mine might be the obnoxious one. And you over there? Yours might be the awkward one. Of course, none of this is any more absolute that any of the millions of judgments people make about us as people and as parents. So, we have to be our kids' advocates. We have to be their safe haven. We have to believe in them. It sounds so simple when I put it that way but it really isn't because we are human. We can be swayed by cultural norms and make decisions out of fear. I've done this and I'll likely do it again but I'm trying. I'm really trying. For those of you reading this and wondering what dramatic events are transpiring in the Up Popped A Fox household to elicit such a post, there are none. We are simply raising kids and trying to figure it all out. My point is that parenting is hard. It requires emotional fortitude and I have found only one magical elixir that gives it to me and that is listening to my children. Because, when I do - when I really listen to their thoughts on life and love and the world - I am no longer filled with fear but excitement for what's to come.
p.s. Have you voted today?