To All The Running Late, Overwhelmed, Skipped Breakfast and Lunch Moms and Dads:
Here’s the thing: you’re not omnipotent.
I know this comes as a shock to you, given all the awesome power you actually do possess. Locating a lone lost ballet slipper in the Lego bucket minutes before class, magicking dinner from an egg, three saltines and a leftover chicken breast, and singing the goodnight song in just the right key to convey love and comfort and if-you-get-out-of-this-bed-I-will-lose-my-ever-lovin’-mind are all black-ops parenting skills you’ve got in spades.
You downloaded three pregnancy fact-of-the-day apps five minutes after the test showed positive. You bought every baby book on the market. You made smart, responsible choices about child care and car seat safety. As the children grew, your skill set widened. You wired balloon arches at school festivals, attended parent-teacher conferences, and learned about internet safety. You talked about drugs, swallowed hard and talked about sex, and endured endless hours of rock-n-roll band practice.
You’re doing lots right. You’re doing your job.
The thing is, sometimes kids do things that parents just can’t control. Stuff happens.
Your baby won’t sleep through the night. At thirteen months, she’s cried it out, co-slept, spent the evening chauffeured around like a mini-Miss Daisy and she still won’t sleep more than 4 hours at a stretch. The other KinderMusic mamas have politely changed the subject to different milestones, not wanting to embarrass you by continuing to ask how it’s going. They can tell as you nod off during Wheels on the Bus, drool dripping attractively from the corner of your mouth that all is not well. Nothing’s working.
Your 12 year-old refuses to ride a bike. You spend endless hot summer days with sweat slipping down the inside of your thighs while you run behind him, balancing the bike with one hand. Time and time again, you watch him thud hopelessly to the ground the second you let go. You stand over him in the grass, asking what he thinks would’ve happened if Abraham Lincoln had given up on the Union because being President in 1863 was “too hard.” You finally give in; his ticket to freedom sits dusty in the garage and you keep endless mental lists of things he’ll be excluded from because he can’t ride a bicycle.
Your teenager has suddenly shifted from your sweet Starbucks companion to a surly stranger who occasionally stops by for dinner. That AP class her counselor was sure she’d enjoy? She’s failing. Spectacularly. Her grade hit 60 so fast if it was a sports car, teen boys would have posters of it on their walls. You text her about it because she’s forgotten how to talk IRL. You look up the meaning of the emoji response she sends and worry about our collective future.
Your preschooler somehow only eats orange foods. You have served carrots and macaroni and cheese and goldfish crackers for every meal, including Thanksgiving. You have rewarded and punished and ignored and cajoled. You catch yourself dripping food coloring into mashed potatoes and milk and realize he has won.
Your 7 year-old refuses to change out of her soccer uniform. She wears it to school, to church, in the dentist’s chair. You wash and dry it at night, on high heat hoping for a terrible, irreversible laundry accident. Halfway through the cycle, you frantically rush into the laundry room and rescue it, realizing you won’t be able to get her to school in anything else. You begin to accessorize it optimistically with tights and glitter boots and oversized hair bows. You tell yourself French women build full wardrobes with a few key pieces and this is likely just a precursor to a wildly successful career in fashion.
Here’s the hard cold truth: this isn’t about you.
Your kid’s current weirdness isn’t because you divorced their dad or formula fed or forgot about the third grade Ancient Greek food festival. It isn’t because you parent with a prefix (step, foster, adoptive). It isn’t because you struggled through a year-long depression after your mom died. It isn’t because you left the church. It’s isn’t because you had a c-section or an epidural or because you delivered naturally at home in a bathtub with your dog as your labor support animal.
We adults learn about this child-rearing adventure, teach our children carefully, and then, terrifyingly, must set them free to chart their own path. We do it over and over again, from the first step they take away from us as chubby toddlers to the click of the closing door of their first apartment that will leave us standing on the stoop wondering if they can really afford this place.
Sometimes kids chart their own paths and succeed, with gold stars on their progress charts and certificates on the fridge and mailboxes stuffed with college acceptances. Sometimes they chart their own paths and things go differently than you dreamed. Your kid never rides a bike or wears the same outfit for a month or fails history. Those episodes won’t define them. The weirdness you’re worried about will likely be just a small part of their overall story. All of us are the sum of our successes and failures, our shining moments and not-so-secret oddities.
Keep doing your job.
Stay the course. Keep finding the lost umbrella, and talking about that topic that’s more comfortable for everyone to avoid, and teaching them to sort their laundry and be a decent human being and care for their credit scores. Keep offering the absolute best you have.
And then let it go.
One of Your Own
An earlier version of this post appeared on Blunt Moms.