When we get pregnant and have our first child, it seems like everyone and everything is at your disposal. There are the doctor’s appointments and baby books preparing us for everything and an overabundance of unsolicited parenting advice from well-meaning strangers and friends and family who’ve been there before — embattled soldiers to remind us “this too shall pass.”
As time marches on, these are the same people with whom we will share our children’s achievements and milestones. When they do well, we are the first to espouse to the world how brilliant our child is, even from an early age. “Look who’s walking already!” or “Someone knows their ABCs.” We are so invested in every aspect of their lives that sometimes their achievements feel like our own.
But what happens when our children hit the hard times — when they act out or make choices that can affect their safety, reputation, and self-esteem? Who do we lean on then?
This last year of middle school for my 13-year-old daughter has been her most challenging yet. It was a year of changing friends, the kind where lunch tables are at stake and relationships are on the line. Her choices this year have been less than stellar — I’ve used the phrase “I’m disappointed in you” more times than I can count. She is trying to grow up fast, to experiment, and it scares me to death.
In addition to the million thoughts racing in my mind about how to protect my daughter, I lie awake at night imagining all the other parents who hear about her indiscretions and think, “Thank god that wasn’t my child,” or “My child would never do that.” Or worse still, “I’m never letting my child spend time with her again.” If I’m being truthful, I uttered those same words not so long ago when I caught wind of similar tales — before it was my child.
Society and our own internal voice can make it feel as if our “flawed” child is somehow our fault. “You didn’t spend enough time with them. You are divorced. You work outside the home.”
“You took your eye off the ball.”
It is often difficult to reach out and say, “I feel like I am failing as a parent. I feel like I am failing my child. I need help.” It feels frustrating and often embarrassing to admit. The problems our children face suddenly feel bigger and more urgent. So why don’t we band together in bad times as much as we do in good ones?
As teenagers, most of us need every second (and third) chance we received. But when it is our child who needs those chances, we are left wondering if it will get better, is our child the only one going through this? It can feel isolating for parents and children alike.
These are the times that are essential to have lifelines to lean on. But the silence has been deafening. There are friends and acquaintances that have heard about my daughter’s struggles, yet no one reaches out. As the parent, it is equally as difficult to ask for help. It can feel like our network, our support system, has vanished in an instant and we are left to bear the scarlet “A” alone.
For all the times we are there for each other to commiserate about pregnancy woes or the most successful way to wean our kid off their pacifier, we need our tribe even more as they age. If our children go through difficult times, and most will, we need to pick up the phone and call each other. It may be hard to know what to say, but our presence will make all the difference in the world.