Being a parent is actually a bizarre thing. I grew a person inside my body. Twice. Then, I pushed them out. And I’ve spent the last several years trying to teach each of them not to be jerks, in hopes that one day they will go out in the world as good, decent people, making me proud. And also taking half of my heart with them. I read somewhere that parenting is the only career you’ll have where the goal is to put yourself out of a job.
As my kids started getting older, I remember thinking that one day, they would be big people and I would be able to put my head on my pillow at night and not think that every single thing I had said and done as a mother had ruined them for life. Or that the choices they had made that day proved I was raising an evil genius. Or if the cold they were nursing was really typhoid fever. Or — if I had let them leave my watchful gaze and allowed them to sleep at a friend’s house — if they were they using good manners. Or if the parents of said friend were not, in fact, the lovely and charming people they had presented themselves as but instead were actually serial killers. These were all actual thoughts that kept me up. And I was under the complete delusion that there would be a day that I would not have these concerns and would actually stop worrying.
I know, right?
I admit that the fears that I had when they were babies were sometimes irrational. Like when I physically could not — as in, my feet would not move — go near the railing on the ferry with my babies in slings because I was convinced they would be pulled from my insanely tight grasp and be sucked down to the water below. I also used to have this recurring nightmare that I happily went out to the store, carefree and light, and left my tiny babies home alone, to God knows what horrors. Then, I would realize what I had done, become hysterical, and try desperately to get home to them, only to find that my legs had betrayed me and were frozen in place. And the best was the time I sat and cried in my sister’s garage because I was certain that my child was exhibiting sociopathic tendencies instead of just being a four-year-old (who often exhibit bizarre behavior — because they’re four).
I thought there was no way I could possibly worry more about their safety, well-being, and mental health than I did when they were babies, incapable of self-preservation and/or self-governance. It was sort of like saying, “what could possibly go wrong?” Because now they are capable of self-preservation and/or self-governance — at least, in theory — and any fear I may have had has been multiplied by the years they have been on this earth.
Science has not helped me in this area. Whilst reading up on children, adolescents, and teens, study after study informed me that the frontal lobe of the brain does not fully develop in females until around the age of 22 and in men, closer to 25. So while this explained so much (SO MUCH), it also left me wondering, how in the hell can anyone expect me to allow them to go out into the world without me until they’re 30? Because as it happens, the frontal lobe is responsible for risk assessment. It’s the part of the brain that tells us adults, “Hey moron, don’t jump off that cliff. You can’t fly and do you really trust that rubber band on your ankle?”
One of the studies included a 15-year-old boy who was an honors student, skilled athlete, and all around great kid, who admitted to risky sexual activity, binge drinking with friends, and other really, really dumb stuff. When the researchers asked him if he was aware of the possible negative outcomes of such behaviors, he admitted that he was. However, he just didn’t really think it would happen to him and/or the risk was worth the reward.
The study went on to say that evolutionarily, we need this feature or we would never progress. There has to be a healthy dose of risk-taking in order for the species to advance. Sure, that makes sense to me on an intellectual level. It even provides me with perspective when evaluating certain extra-stupid choices my kids make. But, seriously? How are any of us even alive?
Let’s be honest here, my teen years are nothing to brag about. Unless it’s to brag that I’m still alive. I was every parent’s nightmare come true. And on occasion, it wasn’t even on purpose. Recently, I was lamenting with a friend about how upset I was when my kid got into another kid’s car without first checking in with me for approval. I had never seen this child drive. I didn’t know if he was a safe and conscientious motor vehicle operator. I didn’t even have the opportunity to do a background check, run his fingerprints, or have him drive an obstacle course to my satisfaction.
And then I was reminded of the time, when I was not yet 18, that I accompanied a boyfriend, who was working on his pilot’s license, into the skies above Long Island, in a four-person-tiny-plane (yes, that was the technical term). I was both shocked and insulted when my mother suggested perhaps I should have sought permission, prior to climbing hundreds (maybe thousands? I don’t really remember) of feet into the air with a student pilot. Why was she so upset? I mean, what could possibly have gone wrong?
I know, right?
Again, how are any of us even alive? And yet, here we are, gray hair and all (though science also says there’s no correlation between stress and gray hair. Clearly these scientists never had kids.) Generation after generation, we nervously cradle our newborns, cautiously stand by when our toddlers take their first steps, anxiously put them onto the school bus when kindergarten rolls around, exhaustedly pace the floor when they take the car out at night, and tearfully drive away when we leave them at college. Each stage takes them farther away from where they started (safe in my arms) and closer to the only person who will ever love them as much as I do: themselves.
We will always worry about our kids (as was evidenced by the drive-by care package my mother left on my porch while we were all down with some nasty flu-like virus this week). Baby worries just morph into big-kid worries, then into teen worries, and then into adult worries. It is not cliché to say that our kids take a piece of us with them wherever they go because they are literally made out of us. We just have to hope they survive those first two-and-a-half decades of being actual half-wits. Then, one day, if we’re lucky, we can lie awake at night worrying about them AND our grandkids. This is why God gave us booze.
Technology has granted us a plethora of new ways to keep tabs on our wily teens. From the Find My Friends tracking app for their phones to the ability to block the volume on the car stereo from getting too high when they are driving, we have a leg up on our parents. Of course, there is something to be said for the old adage “ignorance is bliss.”
If you’d like to take a stand somewhere between being your child’s own personal stalker or a totally absentee parent, I suggest keeping an open line of communication, having fair and honest conversations about the many dangers facing them in this world, and also periodically requiring that they send you their location, with latitude and longitude, on demand. It keeps them on their toes. If you’re not sure how to use this feature and your kid swears they don’t either, first you should know that they’re lying. Second, check with your cell phone provider. There are many ways to respectfully track your kids, but they can vary per phone and per provider. And if your teen doesn’t have a phone, well, you’re probably not on speaking terms anyway. Just put a tracking microchip in their shoe. Safewise offers a review of a wide range of wearable tracking products for your kids.
Have fun explaining why that new watch keeps beeping when they leave the house.
Laurie Nigro, is the mother of two biological children and one husband. She also takes care of a menagerie of animals that leave throw-up around for her to step in in the middle of the night. Laurie’s passionate about frugal, natural living, which is a nice way of saying she’s a kombucha-brewing, incense-burning, foodie freak who tries really hard not to spend money on crap made by child laborers. You can hear her rant about her muse (aka husband) and other things that have no bearing on your life, in this space each Sunday.
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