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Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year’s Resolution 2012– Ask Myself: “What Are Parents For?”

Kids are a miracle, created by what any tradesman will tell you is unskilled labor, with a dash of capital “M” Mystery.  Mysterious if for no other reason that children are the only time in your life that you love someone before you even know them, or even see them.  I love mine to pieces….

That being said, being a parent is a constant struggle between “want to do” and “supposed to do”.  Every action and inaction by parents is fraught with significance. Maybe you are better at managing this balance than I am. It seems like I spend a lot of time worried and obsessed about my healthy, happy, well-nourished children.

The myth of the self-sacrificing parent hangs over us all.  Did my choosing to play on the internet distract me from a moment of enrichment that would inspire my daughter to win the Nobel Prize? Or, in the alternative, what if that time spent lost in your own thoughts and concerns, rather than engaged in positively reinforcing whatever your son is doing at the moment, created a void in his soul that could only be filled by the ritualized dismembering of hitchhikers?

I know, hyperbole. But when a psycho cuts loose, how quick are we to start asking about who raised them and how they did it?

Mothers particularly are singled out- what a cultural load they carry! Facebook is full of odes to the self-sacrificing mother : "Repost if you are a mom who would rather pour hot molten lead into her navel than see her child shed a tear.” I want to see one that says “Repost if you are a mom who just said “There’s the peanut butter, there’s the bread, you are ten years old so make your own damn sandwich.”

So what exactly are parents for?

A wise pediatrician once told me that “If your kids are loved, and feel that their home is a safe place, that’s 90 percent of parenting”. So beyond the basics of creating a loving, safe home (and if, like me, you will be spending their inheritance in your old age) what the hell is this other 10% that we think we should be doing?

Maybe instead of agonizing and “doing”, maybe what parents are for is to make ourselves obsolete. And maybe we do that by getting out of our kids’ way, letting them pursue their own interests, and by pursuing our own interests.

Shouldn't we be preparing our kids, like a sailing vessel of old, for launch into the wind and the seas, able to rely on us as a home port, for sure, but mostly to be able to make a home, or at least make their way, in any port they navigate themselves toward?

And aren't we and they better served by giving them, and ourselves, some space to grow? Perhaps we should be helping clear a few weeds from around them, rather than binding and clipping them like a bonsai tree.

In the new year I will consider that giving each other some space may be the best parenting.

Like they say on the airplane “Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others to do so…”. So I'm going to start by taking a deep breath....


  1. Nicely put and I don't think you're the only one. It seems to be a constant struggle for me and only gets worse as they get older. I hope that I can also do better with this in the coming year and I know my kids hope so too!

  2. Where's the "like" button?

  3. @ Melody- thanks for reading and the comments -- sometimes I think I'm a narcissist for thinking that what I do or don't do will so materially affect them (didn't we all ignore our own parents or yes them to death when we were young...;-)