From behind the tightly shut door of our teenage son’s bedroom, my partner and I wonder endlessly: is this normal? Should we intervene? Are we doing this parenting thing right? Is there a book? How about a guru? How is it that we are invited do the most important job in the world with no guidance whatsoever? After all, you have to take an examination when you drive a car … a motorcycle even … how about when deciding to raise a human being?
Two seemingly different discussions this week took me on a short journey to the same idea. That the only thing we need to do for our children is to love them. Not that it is ever as easy as it sounds. And more, that it is not just my child who counts, it is all the children who count – did you know that the Masai greeting translates to “how are the children?” How amazing is that?
This morning I would like to share an excerpt from a book that has marked my existence. Here is Untamed, pages 153 – 155, from the irreplaceable Glennon Doyle. Nothing makes more sense to me about parenting than that.
Every generation of parents receives a memo when they leave the hospital with their baby.
My grandmothers’ memo: Here is the baby. Take it home and let it grow. Let it speak when spoken to. Carry on with your lives.
My mother’s memo: Here is your baby. Take her home and then get together each day with your friends who also have these things. Drink Tab before four o’clock and wine coolers after. Smoke cigarettes and play cards. Lock the kids out of the house and let them in only to eat and sleep.
Our memo: Here is your baby. This is the moment you have been waiting for your entire life: when the hole in your heart is filled and you finally become complete. If, after I put this child in your arms, you sense anything other than utter fulfillment, seek counseling immediately. After you hang up with the counselor, call a tutor. Since we have been speaking for three minutes, your child is already behind. Have you registered her for Mandarin classes yet? I see. Poor child. Listen closely: Parent is no longer a noun — those days are done. Parent is now a verb, something you do ceaselessly. Think of the verb parent as synonymous with protect, shield, hover, deflect, fix, plan, and obsess. Parenting will require all of you; please parent with your mind, body, and soul. Parenting is your new religion, within which you will find salvation. This child is your savior. Convert or be damned. We will wait while you cancel all other life endeavors. Thank you.
Now the goal of parenting is: Never allow anything difficult to happen to your child.
To that end, she must win every competition she enters. (Here are your four hundred participation trophies, distribute accordingly.) She must feel that everyone likes and loves her and wants to be with her at all times. She must be constantly entertained and amused; every one of her days on Earth must be like Disneyland, but better. (If you go to actual Disneyland, get a fast pass because she should never be forced to wait. For anything, ever.) If other kids don’t want to play with her, call those kids’ parents, find out why, and insist they fix it. In public, walk in front of your child and shield her from any unhappy faces that might make her sad, and any happy faces that might make her feel left out. When she gets into trouble at school, call her teacher and explain loudly that your child does not make mistakes. Insist that the teacher apologize for her mistake. Do not ever, ever let a drop of rain fall upon your child’s fragile head. Raise this human without ever allowing her to feel a single uncomfortable human emotion. Give her a life without allowing life to happen to her. In short: Your life is over, and your new existence is about ensuring that her life never begins. Godspeed.
We got a terrible memo.
Our terrible memo is why we feel exhausted, neurotic, and guilty.
Our terrible memo is also why our kids suck.
They do, they just suck.
Because people who do not suck are people who have failed, dusted themselves off, and tried again. People who do not suck are people who have been hurt, so they have empathy for others who are hurt. People who do not suck are those who have learned from their own mistakes by dealing with the consequences. People who do not suck are people who have learned how to win with humility and how to lose with dignity.
Our memo has led us to steal from our children the one thing that will allow them to become strong people: struggle.
Our terrible memo is also why we stay busy with the trivial while the world our children will inherit crumbles. We obsess over our children’s snacks while they rehearse their own deaths in active-shooter drills at school. We agonize over their college prep while the earth melts around them. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a more overparented and underprotected generation.
Here is your baby.
Love her at home, at the polls, in the streets.
Let everything happen to her.