Parenting is a balancing act between holding on, letting go
"Mom, look what Zoe just sent me!"
It was my daughter, Madelyn, bringing her cell phone to me. I took in the group photo from her days at St. Paul Lutheran Preschool. I immediately recognized several of the kids, including Zoe, Phoenix, Isaac, Jake, and of course, Madelyn. Without thinking, I touched the phone screen as if I could touch the past. How did it all happen so fast?
I'm certain my emotions are familiar to other parents. One moment you are holding your baby in your arms, controlling their entire universe. Seemingly seconds later, they are a teenager; and, you, the parent, are in far less control of their world. I thought I was savoring the moments, enjoying her time as a young child. Yet, a longing from deep within me welled, filling me with desire for more time and/or a chance to go back in time.
So many of those preschool years are vivid memories. Yet, I fear, many more are lost to the archives of time. Looking at that picture and the look on my daughter's face, I recalled her vivacious and verbal personality. Those two ponytails, one on each side of her head, were symmetrical in the morning. Yet, by the time I picked her up, inevitably, they were cock-eyed -- which, in my eyes, made her even more adorable!
We parents can be so egocentric about our own kids. Perhaps even in denial. "My kid is the cutest, smartest, fastest, fill-in-your-own-blank here." I've always tried to be realistic and recognize Madelyn's limitations as well as strengths.
Yet, looking back at that picture, I was struck by the fact that even then, I didn't appreciate her evolving personality enough in my attempt to remain objective and humble. After all, I did not want to be perceived by others as one of those "only child parents" who thinks their child can do no wrong. In fact, I wonder, was I too harsh on her? Or, was I too lenient? Although the latter, I doubt, just because having been in the classroom for so long, I did not want a child who did not understand rules, structure and discipline. If anything, I go back to my first position: Was I too hard on her?
I can absolutely drive myself insane worrying about the type of parent I have been. It is such a fine line between providing the right support, and doing too much. I know for sure, I have never wanted to be that "helicopter parent" who buzzes around their child reminding them of every action they should take. Nor have I ever wanted to be that parent who doesn't provide any support in their child's endeavors. So, I've found myself teetering on the tightrope of parenting balance -- not too much wiggle room, it seems to me.
Oh sure, I recognize that as a parent of an only child, my worry may be even more increased than other parents with two or more children. It is easy for me to have the myopic view of my child. Which is why, I probably fall to the "too hard" side of parenting. For example, a month or so ago, I arrived at school well before my students and received a text from my daughter. "Mom, I forgot to put my contacts in, and I forgot to pack my gym clothes." Now, I suppose I could have asked my principal for permission to leave long enough for me to run those items to her. Or, I could have asked a relative to take them to her. Instead, I simply texted, "I'm not sure what I can do for you. My students will be here soon."
Was that too harsh? I'm certain some readers think it was. Yet, I figured the worst that would happen is she would come home with a headache from squinting all day; and, her gym teacher might give her a lower grade for the day for not having gym clothes. Yet, what I was most hoping was that those natural consequences would be enough to help her remember those items in the future. Still, I question myself, just as I question my parenting looking back at that preschool picture.
Have I been kind and loving without being spoiling? Have I been patient and structured without being indulgent? Have I provided help and support when needed without solving her problems for her? Most of all, did I really drink in those early years when the world to her was a wide-open canvas of possibility, encouraging her to believe that anything was possible?
These were (and still are) my questions as I held that almost 10-year-old picture. All those kids, my heavens, look how sweet and innocent! Please slow down time, God, please. And, please help me make the right parenting choices.
May God guide parents and provide strength and wisdom as we totter on life's tightrope of child rearing.
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.