Reading an article in the weekend newspaper magazine about a brain surgeon reflecting on his work saving lives reminded me of my life as a parent. It can feel like you need to be a brain surgeon to manage the many demands on you and to understand what’s going on in the minds and bodies of your children as you go through the daily parenting routine. There still seems to be so much we don’t know about how kids develop. We can never be sure what they will do next and we don’t always know how our behavior and attitudes can affect this.
Certainly many of the things you do with your children feel like they might have life threatening consequences. I’ve certainly spent more than one sleepless night reflecting on how close I may have come to hurting or losing my children.
This may have been triggered by a near miss in the car, when my heart raced and legs turned to jelly and I had to pull over in the gutter to catch my breath and regain the confidence to drive on again. Or it could have been something I didn’t do – like stopping my toddler from dancing and spinning so fast in the bedroom.
Letting her revel in this joyous moment led to her falling and hit her head on the bedroom suite. Of course this resulted in a visit to the doctors and attachment of one of those little butterfly clips over her eyebrow – serving beautifully as a reminder of my shame for days, yet a great source of attention for her.
I am also regularly reminded of the night my daughter (yes the same daughter a few years later) broke her arm and I insisted she eat her dinner with her “big girl fork” before I took her to the emergency department. Yes, of course, it was a greenstick fracture. Another reminder of the shame for me and attention for her arose as the plaster cast was required for the next six weeks.
So just how do kids and parents survive these experiences? There must be some kind of inbuilt resilience that children have that enable them to get through all of the childhood illnesses and near-misses that their parents can’t possibly prevent them from. It’s certainly no wonder that parents these days are often called “helicopter parents” - hovering over their children.
With so many day to day events creating sleepless nights and guilty consciences added to the never ending list of new things parents should know and think about that are readily shared by the media, it’s no wonder that parents feel anxious. Of course parents take on the guilt and our society is more than happy for parents to take on the blame. It’s a recipe for anxiety and paralysis.
How parents get through these times and keep their own positive mental health and sense of self intact is also a bit of a mystery. Perhaps they are buffered by their own family and friends who share similar stories so they don’t feel so alone. Perhaps they have an inner belief that they are really doing the best they can. Perhaps there’s even a touch of that protective denial we all often have that nothing too bad will ever really happen to us. Perhaps we have ways of not taking on all the responsibility for things that happen to our kids, a sense that we cannot and shouldn’t be responsible for every single thing. It could be all the other times when things go well and our kids pleasantly surprise us that helps us to gain perspective and some balance.
The brain surgeon has a pretty unique skill set which is brought to each situation but it’s his or her inner capacity to garner the strength and courage to use those skills that bring success. Parents, whether it feels like it or not, also develop a skill set over the years as they undertake the really important parenting role. We also need to garner inner strength and courage to get up each morning and tackle the day ahead – to be there for our kids, to step back when we need, to trust in our capacity to do what is best and to notice the signs that tell us just what a good job we’ve done.