There is NO time in parenthood when you can relax. I’ve been at this for over 15 years now and every new experience just reinforces that sad truth.
My teenager had a horrible middle school experience. I won’t go into great detail out of respect for her privacy, but it was utterly frightening to watch. Everytime she left the house, or even when she closed herself in her room we were afraid. More than once my husband and I almost pulled her out of the school, in fact asked her if we could PLEASE pull her out and either homeschool or get a tutor for her, but she refused. She was miserable, despondent, hopeless, dark (and yes, she was receiving professional help).
She graduated from 8th grade in June, and in September started at our regional high school. Five towns combine into one high school, which means a whole new mix of kids, and a bigger student population. Many people told us that she would find her groove at the high school and we prayed and prayed and prayed that would be true.
In the past few months we have had a new person living in our home. She is HAPPY. She has made many new friends. She is confident. She cares about her classes. She cares about how she looks (and by this I mean she cares if she’s showered and brushed her hair, not what designer label she’s wearing). She has a new boyfriend who seems really nice. I’m thrilled for her.
But I’m still afraid. Before, I was seriously afraid about the possibility of suicide and self- destructive behavior. I was afraid because she disliked herself, had few friends and no social life. I’m SO SO SO thankful those fears are gone – but they have been traded for new ones. Now that she has friends and “hangs out,” I fear adolescent group mentality and the propensity to make poor choices. Fears of sex (not just of her having it, but of STD’s and pregnancy!), drugs, fears of her expanding freedom and that with her new social life she may find herself in a precarious situation and not realize it or know how to get out of it. We’ve talked about all these things with her, and once or twice she has called me to pick her up from a situation in which she felt uncomfortable, but still, the social pressures for teenagers are enormous, and sometimes those pressures can override their instincts and common sense.
I naively thought that once my daughter was in a better place I would be able to relax. Nobody warned me that fear would be a constant companion in my parenting journey. Sometimes it feels paralyzing, overwhelming. For the most part I’m able to manage the fear beast though. I can’t let fear rule my parenting – what an awful experience that would be for both her and me! I can’t seal her in bubble wrap. It’s part of the cost of loving – this intense desire for the well-being of the one you love, the fierce protectiveness against all things that might cause your child harm physically, emotionally or spiritually. It goes against every instinct to let go, yet it’s the one thing we must do. She has to learn to live her life, and the only way she can do that is if my husband and I allow her increasing freedom. That means letting her go, little by little.
These new set of fears seem more natural to me than the ones I had when she was in the depth of her depression and self-loathing. They’re fears that go along with the normal course of a teenager starting to break free, taking those baby steps towards adulthood. They’re fears that are associated with living a life and not with being held back from life. The trick is knowing when to tell the fear to get out of the way, and when to listen to it – because there ARE times when you have to say to your kids, “Nope, not this time.”