Recently I had one of those moments you don’t ever want to have as a parent (or step-parent). The realization came to me like a punch to the head. What was it? It’s difficult to sum up without pointing a finger or two (and I’m not a big fan of that kind of game). So let me try to do this without putting anyone in a light they don’t want to dwell in for any length of time.
This is about my youngest step daughter. You see, I love the girl a great deal. We’ve always had a great relationship. She’s always been an incredibly special person and I’ve gone to the greatest lengths I can to help her navigate the unbalanced and torrid waters of becoming an adult. I was there, sitting on the floor with her in my arms as she cried after the first boy really hurt her. I gave her the best advice I had, hoping the words would help her to understand just how incredible she was.
But then, shortly after that, she fell into a relationship with someone I didn’t exactly approve of. I was shocked to find her going against every piece of advice I had given her and found myself really, really angry…almost to the point of being insulted. I informed the daughter I could, in no way, support her choice. The idea of her getting hurt again had me blind with anger and a misplaced sense of self righteousness.
And then…well…it hit me. First and foremost, I realized that she’s going to get hurt. Life and love is simply not easy. To think you can prevent your child from getting their heart broken is not only foolish, it’s short sighted. Why? It happens…to everyone. Young adults need those lessons to help them grow, to help learn the ins and outs our their emotional and mental make up. And if, as a parent, you are always there to prevent heartache from happening, or play clean up, how is that child ever going to grow into a self-sufficient, well-rounded adult?
Adult. Whew…it happens fast. And there is no denying she is an adult. To that end, it’s her right to choose who she wants to love. Period. As long as she’s not getting physically hurt or mentally/emotionally abused (at which point all bets are off), or getting taken advantage of…it’s her life to live now.
Of course, the lesson did not end there. Would it were that simple. It also dawned on me that I had pre-judged someone as guilty until proven innocent. In no way was that fair. Then it came — realization, the second. In some strange pique of enlightenment, it dawned on me that my daughter could get hurt by:
- A rich kid from an upstanding family
- A middle class Christian
- Some model-beautiful specimen of physical perfection
- A scholar
- An officer of the law
- Seth Rogen
The list goes on and on. Today it’s impossible to know who has the best intentions in mind for your daughter (or son) and who doesn’t. But that child of yours still has to live and make their own decisions (when they’re old enough to do so — which, again, she is). With that in mind, I have to withhold my judgement and allow the kid to be innocent until proven guilty.
If it’s good enough for the US judicial system…
Oh wait, that’s broken. Never mind that.
As much as it pains me to think she could be hurt, yet again, I have to fully embrace that heartbreak is a part of growing up.
It’s hard being a parent. Really, really hard. To anyone who comes to me and asks what it’s like to be a parent (or step-parent, as is my case), I do not pull my punches. As my father once said to me, kids step on your toes when they are young and your heart when they’re older. Understand, I’m not one of those gushing parents who fawns over those they’ve raised as if they’d sculpted Michelangelo’s David before they were five. Being a parent is so much more than joy and pride of offspring. In fact, being a parent has zero to do with you and everything to do with them. It is your responsibility to raise that child in such a way that they can become the best humans possible: Caring, conscientious, kind, intelligent, self-supporting, confident…that list goes on and on. Before those chicks leave the nest, it is your job to get them ready. Your life is on hold until they are ready to stand as adults. I am fairly confident that I fully prepared my step-daughter for life. That doesn’t mean she won’t make stupid mistakes that’ll have me facepalming in my sleep. That doesn’t mean she’s not going to hop in and out of relationships with people I don’t necessarily like. That also doesn’t mean I will ever stop loving and caring for that wacky, wonderful, beautiful girl.
I also realize her mistakes are not my fault. She’s an adult now and gets the privilege of reaping the consequences of those missteps. When she comes to me for a shoulder to cry on and some (hopefully) sage advice…I will always be there. Hopefully, when/if this happens I will refrain from doing the one thing I will want to do — point my finger and say “I told you so”. I did…I did tell her so, over and over. But that doesn’t mean I need to remind her of that fact ever again. I do, however, need to reminder her how freaking awesome she is and she deserves to be treated in the same way I treat her mother. Period. End of story.
A hard lesson. We all have to endure them. Without them…we wouldn’t grow. What’s crucial is that there is a positive takeaway from the lesson.