New parents often have nightmares about their children. Dreams spurred on by all the unknowns related to being a parent. New parents suffer from being “fish out of water”. No matter how “together” someone may portrait themselves to be, deep down they know they are just as capable of making rookie mistakes as the next person!
There is fear surrounding so many life issues. Our nature drives us to protect our children from physical harm, choking hazards, open light sockets, etc. There is much we can do to protect our new little peanuts from harm. We baby-proof the house, putting covers on all those attractive sockets, we put up baby gates, we have strollers and car seats which have more safety features than the space shuttle. There is only so much we can do to protect our children though, and as they get older, the world gets more dangerous.
Nearly 12 years ago I had this terrifying dream, and you can skip to the next paragraph to spare yourself the trauma from what I’m about to explain; As a new parent, there were many restless nights, with Connor at the foot of the bed where my wife and I slept. As the male, the protector, perhaps the following manifests more frequently, but who am I to say. Being male, however, I am by default, the protector, and it’s quite natural to take on that role, and I believe this is the reason for my dream. The dream is this (it will not have a happy ending – be warned); It was dark, and I had my newborn son Connor in my arms as we were running through the woods away from a pack of wild dogs (perhaps pigs). I was frantic, running to the point of hyperventilation, I came upon an abandoned house thinking I’d be able to find sanctuary. Completely dark now, I can’t see a thing, and I’m hearing all the scratching and scuffling one might imagine in this scenario, still frantic, still in danger, I felt something brush against my leg. I responded by picking it up and spiking it on the floor. Somehow, in the craziness that dreams can be, it was Connor, and I had killed him. This story has stayed with me like a tattoo I cannot erase, and I believe it serves me now.
If you wisely chose to skip ahead to this paragraph, you were probably right to do so. If you chose to read it, my sincerest apologies if it leaves you feeling sick and sad as it did me for most of this last decade. To paraphrase for those who did not read it, I killed my son in my fevered effort to protect him. There in lies the grand meaning; by trying desperately to protect my child, I killed him.
This doesn’t have to be a literal meaning. I like to take this lesson and apply it to the broader sense of parenting. I imagine you all can relate to the moments in your childhood when your parents yelled at you for no reason, but for the fear of a situation. For example; a friend of mine recalls messing around with his brother, running up and down the stairs having fun as boys do. My friend’s mom yelled at them to stop or else, “you’ll fall down and break you arm!”
I’m hoping this is becoming clearer. We tend to fill our children’s heads with OUR fears based on how our parents handled us as well as experiences we have gone through, or maybe just imagined.
Recently on Facebook, another friend had put out a feeler for her friends opinions regarding whether or not it was a good idea to let her 16-year-old son participate in a co-ed sleepover. The truth is that she just wanted validation for her own opinion – which was to not let him participate. I truly couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the thread from this conversation. She had connected the dots from co-ed sleepover to cancer in just 2 moves. I’m not joking! This is a reality for many people though. Many of us are filled with fears from our parents about things which may never come to fruition in any circumstance.
The truth is, there are only a few controllables as parents, and as our kids enter their school years, our control reduces by whole percentage points each year until we’re down to a mere sliver of what we might like to think we have. We have to recognize this, and treat our children as the people they are. They are being influenced by kids at school, teachers, commercials, packaging, video games, movies, posters about how great milk is for everyone while eating a meal not fit for the prison cafeteria. As such, our role must shift from one of the protector, to one of a counselor. We need to help steer our children away from the bad influence, explain the reality of certain situations, teach them to be honest by allowing them to make mistakes and forgiving them. Allowing our children to have life experiences while helping to mitigate the damage is huge for their learning, and when we shelter them from all which might harm them, we are not doing our jobs as parents. Afterall, what meaning is there in creating miniature versions of ourselves? Is it to be our legacy to raise robots? Wouldn’t we be proud to know that our children are soaring through their lives knowing we supported them in every way we could? Wisdom slowly begins to creep in when we are approaching 40, and yet we hold an expectation that our kids understand it and blindly follow it when their experiences have not taught them what we already know.
While there is no such thing as an easy parenting moment, we can sometimes step back from a situation and change our perspective. A child is a plant which will grow depending on the size pot you put it in. Support their roots, and they will find a way to grow….beautifully!