The other night I ran into a old high school friend that I haven’t seen in…let’s see, 22 years. Shit, I’m old. Anyway, this guy is only a year younger than me but as we got to talking about our families I found out that he has a 7 month old. Interesting…I have a 15 year old. Again I say: I’m old.
That got me thinking about the different things you experience as a parent when your kids start growing up. Anyone with older kids will totally get this, I’m sure. For those that don’t, let me explain. There’s a shift that happens in your responsibilities as a parent when your kids reach a certain age and after a lot of thought, here’s the best way I can explain it:
When your children are small/young, your job is to meet their needs. When they are hungry, you feed them. When they are tired, you put them down for a nap. When they mess up, you teach them right & wrong. You are meeting their needs and it consumes your life. They have a need, you fill it, job done, yeah mom. You are shaping these little heathens in the hopes that they become reasonably well-adjusted members of society and don’t commit any major crimes. Fingers crossed.
Then they reach a certain point in their lives where things change. I can’t put an age on it because I think it’s probably different for each kids but I’m going to say it’s around middle school age. All of a sudden these kids turn into little humans. And they develop needs that you can’t meet. You can’t fix it or make it go away…you have to let them live through it. And live through it with them. For example, if they are having trouble with other kids at school who think they aren’t “cool” enough…no snack or nap is going to fill that need. You can to talk to your kids about who their true friends are and about standing up for themselves but you can’t actually do it for them. You can’t go to the school and tell the other kids that they are little brats and that you hope they grow up to be empty shells living in their parent’s basement working a dead-end job reliving their glory days every weekend at the local bar and wondering why they peaked in high school. Wait, what was I saying?
Anyway, you can’t fix the mess-ups and losses and the embarrassing moments. You just have to help them cope with them and move on. But just like my fear of heights is greatly amplified when the kids are up high (just ask my husband about the near mental breakdown I had at Crater Lake when he tried to pose the kids on a ledge for a picture…it was freakin’ epic.) the hurt of the situation is amplified when you can’t protect them.
So that’s the change: when your kid’s needs change from the ones you can meet to the ones you can’t. And that’s a painful transition for a parent. You feel everything your kid goes through even more when you know there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. And it’s not something you can really explain to the parents of younger kids…you just have to live it. And feel it. And hope like hell that you somehow managed to give your kid the skills needed to navigate the situation and come out the other side better for it. And that they don’t grow up to commit any major crimes. Just felt the need to reiterate that one….