Friday, May 30, 2008

Go Forth and Fail Miserably

I always worry about my kids. What I lie. I sometimes (on a fairly sporadic basis) worry about my kids. Honestly, I'm not a worrier. Okay, here's my secret shame. Don't tell anyone. Promise? When my teenagers go out at night....I don't wait up. I work, or blog, or watch TV, or drink scotch (actually, there's no "or" about the scotch, I pretty much always do that), brush my teeth, and go to bed. I don't lie awake listening for the door, or toss and turn wondering if they're going to miss curfew (not giving them a curfew has actually made policing that little problem rather easy), or sit in a darkened room, in my house coat, tapping my fuzzy slippers. 

Nope. I cuddle up, and go straight to sleep (and let me here, again, extol the virtues of scotch). 

But there are times, even for a lackadaisical parent like me, when I worry sick. Will she pass the driver's test? Will (no, when) will Lauren (or Larry, we're an equal-opportunity family) break my son's heart? Will they get into the university they want to attend? Will they get hired? Will they get fired? Will they fall down drunk on the front step after a party and destroy $6000.00 of orthodontia? 

So, I think I do what most other semi-intelligent, moderately interested parents do....I press the secret button every parent has on the underside of the minivan dash and convert the family vehicle (which I never seem able to rid of the hamster-smell, what is that smell anyway?) into a save-my-kids command centre. 

From this post, I manage, juggle and herd the problem in to a little corner. I then pounce fiercely, capture the beastie, and slay the bastard. Virtually saving my darlings from pain and anguish. Oh, I'm amazing. You should  see me. It's stunning. 

But only recently, my bright and blazing super-mom emblem is starting to slip (and it has nothing to do with one boob being bigger than the other either, thankyouverymuch!) As they get older, and are more and more in the world without me, I'm becoming aware that they're scared. Not scared of people, or taking the bus, or even walking at night. They're scared of something much, much worse. They're scared of failure. 

I watch these smart, savvy, talented, attractive people that my children have become (I mean, just look at the gene pool!) stand on the sidelines. They're careful and cautious. They don't or won't risk anything. They conform, for the most part (wait, here is my other secret shame--well really I have approximately 79 secret shames, but let's just keep on message, shall we--from the time they were born I lived in fear that they'd grow up to be investment bankers or police officers or dentists. In short, I worried they'd grow up to be "The Man." Tattoos, piercings, and purple hair were cool with me, but the more I encouraged, the more they rebelled. It's all nice hair cuts, oxford shirts, and manners! Little buggers really know how to push my buttons! I know, you're thrilled!! Now you know how to raise your kids to be well-groomed, pierce only their ears, and only one time in each lobe, and restrict tattooing to tagging their Five-Star binders with washable markers). 

But why?! Why were these kids, my kids, who had nearly every advantage I could afford--a comfortable life, a good education, and parents who loved and encouraged their dreams, be afraid to fail, and thus, finally, afraid to try? 

Because of me. Because I was the lion-tamer, the trapeze net, the big, fat mat to cushion their falls. I never let them hit hard. I never let them feel the truth of their pain. I never let them experience their mistakes. I never let them fail. 

And in doing so, I've failed them. I've raised people afraid of pain. People who won't risk themselves because they've never learned that, though it's painful, they'll live through their failures. I saved them from themselves and have short-changed them. Now I have to step back and watch them wobble. As young adults facing a new life, they have to learn the lessons I should have allowed them to learn when they were four. It's not fair and I'm ashamed of myself (and they're angry at me for not doing what they've come to expect me to do). 

I thought I was doing my best for them. As a parent, watching your child suffer is possibly one of the hardest things we have to do. My solution was to prevent or soften that suffering, as much for them as for myself.  And I was wrong. We owe it to our children to allow them to experience the reality of their actions and their pain. How else can they become people aware of their potential, aware of what they can overcome, and what they can achieve? 

So, I've retired my super-mom outfit for good. No more saving them. No more slaying the beast. I have to give them the simple human dignity of truth. They can and will handle it. And they'll be stronger people for it. They'll be better people for it. 

I have a new motto now--Try stuff. Fail faster.

I know there are going to be bumps in the road, but frankly, I  think they'd rather live through those bumps than ever have to see my bumpy thighs in my spandex super-mom outfit again! For that, at least, they'll thank me, and, I suspect, so will our neighbors!

1 comment:

Adaptation said...

Parents who have lived their lives experiencing pain, disappionment and failure have the cruel and unusual job of trying to allow their own children to experience things that will cause them pain and sorrow. We are driven by a need so deep within us, NOT to see our children hurt. We hold things back from them, protect them and sometimes, we feel it backfires. What are we to do? We are given only a small arsenal to work from, and knowing the anguish of growing up without so much (fathers, family, security and sometimes basic safety), is it any wonder we protect to the point of atrophy? I don't think so. I think to do anything less for our own children, coming from the lives we've come from, would be denying what we truly are. The hard things we had to face growing up ar not things I would readyily want my own children to experience. We walk a hard, long and sometimes lonely road being parents. We do our best, and when the time comes we have to hand it over to our children and let them live their lives. They may feel we have been a grave disappiontment, but we've done all we knew how to do, what we were driven to do. Love them the best we could have. Is it ever enough?