BY KATIE MARSH
From the day you bring a baby home, there’s this notion of protection parents feel. It’s a feeling that endures, even through the troublesome teen years when defiance helps you better understand why some species eat their young. It’s at that phase that many parents begin looking at the clock—when will these alien life-forms be out of my house? But nothing prepares you for that reality.
The magical first year of a baby’s life is so full of delight and “firsts.” But nothing prepares a new parent for the emotional ups and downs of a willful toddler. The singular wonder that a five-year-old who refuses to eat somehow still manages to grow. The laughter of discovery and the tears of a first broken heart. The shouting matches over trivial matters that aren’t really worth fighting about. The moments of trying to raise independent, free-thinking children, then realizing that plan has backfired when they no longer need you and question every single syllable that comes out of your mouth.
No one told me any of this in 1998. The year my son was born.
And last summer, my son moved out. At 19. And I don’t get to know he’s home safely every night. Or who is with him. Or what he’s doing. Or if he remembered to take his medicine. Or if there’s enough food in the pantry, or if he remembered to turn off the oven. Or if he remembered to pay his electric bill.
I wish someone had explained that of all the phases of parenting, this would be the hardest. Sure, sleepless nights and hauling diapers, extra clothes, sippy cups, and toys everywhere you go, including a ten-minute drive to the grocery store for one item—is exhausting. But what I wouldn’t give for a good, old-fashioned two-year-old temper tantrum these days. A chance to do it all again, this time, armed with the experience of almost 20 years of parenting.
I wish someone had told me that the worry doesn’t get easier; it gets worse. The worry of my baby getting the chicken pox pales in comparison to the first time my baby drove a car on a public street by himself.
And speaking of which, I wish someone had explained to me that the very act of being driven around by the person you gave birth to is the single most unnatural feeling in the whole world. Seriously. This the person who peed and pooed on you and they are driving. Like a grown-up. With crazy people all around them. In a machine that can go really, really fast.
I wish someone had told me how hard it is to watch your child make choices that you know are terrible mistakes, and how you’re powerless to do anything about them. That’s a whole other definition of vulnerability: feeling powerless and inadequate to help. Especially when they are fiercely determined to do their own thing, their own way.
I wish someone had told me that there would be people who would arrive in their life who clearly are terrible influences. How hard it would be to deal with those people…. How, the more you disliked a person, the more your child would be drawn to them. Or the fact that we encouraged our children to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and you’re doing the exact opposite with your distrust of said person.
I wish someone had told me how hard it was going to be to look into the mirror. When the pride of “My child is just like me!” turns to the sobering reality of “My child is just like me….” Oh dear.
I wish someone had told me how messed up our law is that calls an 18-year-old an adult. Any number that still includes “teen,” should not be considered adult. Twenty-five seems a more reasonable number.
Parenting isn’t for cowards. The first part—that’s the easy part. That’s the part I could do over again without hesitation. The latter part—I would still do over again, without hesitation. But I wish someone had told me how hard it would be. How parenting is the one thing where the more experience you have, the harder it becomes.