Every night as we turn out the lights, my son begins to pour out his heart to me. My eye-rolling, sass-mouthed, game-obsessed tween pulls off the mask and tells me his deepest secrets, his biggest fears.
My boy is just like me: He feels everything deeply, and everything affects him. He’s intense and sensitive.
To me, he’s utterly beautiful.
But I know he suffers. I know that when he tells me he’s worried about what grade he’ll get on the math test, or that he hopes so much he’ll get a solo in the school concert that he can’t stop thinking about it, he really means it — he feels those feelings of fear and angst in his bones.
I know when he talks about not wanting to grow up, how he wishes he could stay 9 years and 9 months old forever, that he really does feel the same ache that I do as I watch him grow up, time slipping so quickly through my fingers.
And although I know that his feelings are normal and okay, I want to take all the sads away from him.
I want to make it so that everything he wishes for comes true. I want to give him the world. And I want to freeze time for him. I want to keep him the exact age he is now, the one he loves so much to be.
But the thing is, I can’t do that. Obviously. I tell him every night that I can’t control everything for him, and that sometimes he just won’t get what he wants. I tell him that I don’t have a time machine, although I joke that I wish I did.
None of us parents have the power to change the course of time and space. We can’t change the fact that sometimes life is going to suck, that our kids are going to hurt.
We can’t fix it, but we want to — so very much.
When our kids complain of a tummy ache, we want to take away the ouch. If they get hurt in any way, shape or form, we want to do everything in our power to make them feel better. Sometimes we can, a little. Often, though, we just can’t.
If anyone is cruel to our kids (even a little), instinctively, we want to yell at them, punch them in the face, or worse — but we can’t do that. We do our best to separate our kids from bullies and shield them from the assholes that inevitably walk this earth, but we can’t be there for every bad situation that comes up.
No matter what we do, there will be times they suffer without us even there. Sometimes they will suffer without us ever even knowing.
I guess it’s part of watching them grow up and leave the nest, part of the endless letting go you have to do as a parent.
When they’re babies, we are their whole world. If we’re lucky, the most they will suffer is a gas bubble, a bad bout with teething, and a bit of separation anxiety. As the years go by, it’s harder to feel so much control over their suffering, their big feelings — the seemingly endless crap that can go wrong just by virtue of being a human being in this world.
As far as I’m concerned, that powerlessness we often feel is the hardest part of raising kids. No matter what they do or where they are, watching them go off into the world is like watching a little part of your heart walking outside your body.
No one told me how hard this part of parenting would be. Sometimes I just want to take my kids, bundle them up, and rush us off to a deserted island to live our lives free from the rest of the world.
Believe me, I know that would suck just as much and wouldn’t accomplish a thing. But it’s a feeling I have often. I want my kids never to know heartache, evil, or to experience one ounce of disappointment.
And yet, I’m realizing that my primary job as a parent is not to take away all the sorrow, but to make it okay. My job is to teach them ways to cope with it all and to manage their emotions — to feel them, work through them, and let them go.
It means that I need to be brave and strong. I need to work on my relationship with my own big feelings. I need to remember that some things in life are just beyond my control. I need to accept that and move on.
And I need to teach my kids to do the same.
I think it’s hardest with my older son, maybe because he’s just like me — full of heart, sensitive to his core. And he trusts me; when we lie there in the dark together, he tells me things he wouldn’t tell anyone else. I wonder sometimes if I let my feelings about his feelings get the better of me, and that I could help him more if I didn’t absorb his feelings to the extent that I do.
But I’m a mom, you know? His heartache is my heartache. I can’t help but take it in. So, I’m just going to have to lie there with him, “hold the space” for him, let him express his feelings, and reassure him that it will all be fine.
But I can’t say I won’t always be thinking of some way to just make all the hard feelings disappear, to get rid of any jerks, stressors, disappointments — to just make life a little less harsh sometimes.
Also, if anyone out there has a time machine I can borrow, let me know.