It all started with a conversation I had with a potential client over coffee. Both being mothers, we began talking about the challenges that we and all parents face when raising kids, no matter what stage those kids are in. She has a teenaged daughter, and, after telling her about how hard I felt those sleepless-nighted, poop-ridden, hyper-vigilant baby and toddler years are, she proceeded to enlighten me about life with a teenager. She painted a less-than-pretty picture which included slammed doors, secrets, and still sleepless nights (I guess some things never change). While we talked I began to feel a slight shiver spread across my body, but it left as quickly as it came. I have years before I have to deal with that stuff, I thought.
A few days later, a friend of mine posted this video on their Facebook wall. If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes to watch. It so poignantly revealed how fast life goes, and how quickly your kids grow from sweet-smelling, helpless beings to independent, responsible adults. Again, I felt it: this time, a bone-chilling sensation that made the hair on my arms stand up, coupled with a tightening in my chest and a wave of nausea. What the heck is wrong with me? I thought. Why am I so bothered by the idea of my kids growing up? They’re still so little!
But last week was the real clincher. I received a phone call from my son’s school one afternoon. I was told that he and another eight-year-old were “being silly” and were making sexual-ish gestures and innuendos. I dealt with the teacher quickly, assured her that he was not exposed to any sexual material in our home, that he must have heard about that kind of stuff from his friends, and that we would have a conversation with him that evening.
When I got off the phone, I was shaking so hard I had to leave my office. Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt like I had been sucker-punched in the belly. And one thought began running through my head.. “Not yet. He can’t grow up yet.”
The longer I am a parent, the more I realize how hard this job really is. When the kids are little, you think it is tough. And it IS. Sleepless nights, screaming babies, and diaper explosions are not for the faint of heart. But as they get bigger, it gets harder. True, once they start taking care of themselves the morning routines become a bit easier, but the tradeoff is that they begin to lose their innocence. They need to become independent, and you have to let them go a bit more every day, releasing them into a harsh, often confusing world filled with innocence-killers around every corner.
They will hear and see things you wish they hadn’t. They will learn about adult topics from their friends, no matter how many times you give them “the talk”. They will make bad decisions and you won’t be there to stop them. It breaks my heart every time I think about our kids growing up and losing their innocence. It makes me want to grab them as tightly as I can, and squeeze them as long and hard as humanly possible, for the rest of my life. But that’s not what being a parent is all about. I think it’s about building your kids a solid foundation, so that when it comes time for them to make their own decisions, they are well-equipped to make good ones.
And as I am learning more and more each day, it is simultaneously the most beautiful and heartbreaking thing I have ever experienced.