There’s a moment in parenting when you’re finally able to come up for air and take a look around.
Don’t do that. Because when you do, you’ll also start to analyze what you had done to screw up your kids while they were still little and malleable. (Yes, every kid, even the one who never gives you grief. You’ll wonder why everyone else’s kids are rebelling, but yours isn’t. Then you’ll convince yourself that you did something wrong.)
It will happen when you’re in a parking lot and you see a mom wrangling little kids just like you used to. As she explains to her four-year-old why he shouldn’t put his fingers in the way of the closing automatic back door on her SUV, you may feel nostalgic, then wistful, then jealous, and then grateful that you no longer have to keep your kids from crushing their fingers every moment of every day.
If she appears calm and reassuring, you may think, I was never that patient.
If she’s yelling at him, you may think, I was never that shrill…was I?
Then you’ll remember the time you brought a cranky toddler to a store and endured 20 minutes of misery (of the hundreds for the day). When you reached the checkout counter and the man in the red vest offered to put a smiley face stamp on your receipt, you replied, “Can you put it on his forehead? It’d be the only smile on his face all day.”
If it’s a kid who now gives you grief, you’ll think, I ruined him by not being supportive of his emotional needs.
If it’s a kid who now rarely gives you grief, you’ll think, I ruined him, because he no longer shows his unhappy feelings.
Or maybe you just had a rough day.
Do we really “ruin” our kids? According to Zeek, the patriarch of the Braverman family on TV’s “Parenthood, ” we do. On last week’s show, he assured his daughter Julia that all parents “screw up” their kids.
You may agree with his sentiment on the day that you come up for air, after your kids are old enough for you to breeze through a parking lot, alone.
The not-so-great-stuff they do might have something to do with you, but it might not, either. Just like your kid’s math genius or the three soccer goals she scored yesterday might have something to do with you — it might not, either. In Nature vs. Nurture, sometimes it’s hard to know who’s winning.
But when you pass the kid pulling his fingers away from the automatic door of his mother’s SUV, ask yourself, “Do my kids still put their fingers in the way of moving doors?”
Well, you did that. You taught them the basics — the stuff that keeps them out of the ER. And you taught them the more complex things, too, like why they need to send thank-you notes for presents they don’t like and how to resolve conflicts on their own and how to stand up for themselves when you’re not around.
You did that. You helped make them, but you didn’t pour all the ingredients in by yourself. There were other people who contributed, plus situations, experiences, temperament, and personality that added to it all. Your job has been to manage it, not control it.
So, no, you didn’t ruin your kids. But you didn’t make them all that they are either, not even the awesome stuff.
If you’ve come up for air, please don’t look for the moment you ruined your kids. Because even the no-good, awful stuff your kids do can mold them into incredible adults one day. And some darn good parents, too.