One of my favorite movies is the 1989 Steve Martin film, Parenthood. The show can best be summarized by the roller coaster speech from the Grandma (Helen Shaw): "...that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited and so thrilled all together. Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around... nothing... I like the roller-coaster. You get more out of it".
It's hard to beat the roller coaster analogy for describing parenthood. Some moments are wondrous, like the first time your child says, "I love you, Mommy," or "You're the best mom in the world," just because you put a Hostess cupcake in his sack lunch. There are the family vacations when a miraculous twenty minutes pass with no fighting in the back seat of the mini-van, and you hear only giggles and excited chatter about waterslides, Mount Rushmore and Reptile Gardens. Those are the parenting moments worth remembering.
Then there are the days when everything about raising children feels so challenging that all I want to do is curl up on the couch, eyes closed and whimpering, like there's a scary part in a movie, and I just want it to be over. In particular, I find it difficult to know when to play the "tough love" card and when to be the sympathetic parent my children need. Every child has to deal with difficulties, whether they are bullies or a subject in school that is tough to grasp. Our goal as parents is to enable our children to cope with these situations themselves as best they can, because those moments will still come at them when they are adults. When do we intervene and when do we make them face the music on their own?
We evaluate each moment individually and read the signals from our kids. How to respond? "There there," or "Suck it up!" We don't always get it right. At times I am too sympathetic, which invites an atmosphere of sibling tattling or dwelling on the rough parts of their school days. When I'm too tough, the sight of my child crying breaks my heart. I wonder how my children can ever grasp the concept of God's unconditional love, when I've just shown them anger and disappointment. As parents, we have a choice, just like our children do: dwell on our mistakes or move on.
To move on, all that is required is to admit to our children that even parents make mistakes, but that we are trying our best and we always love them. My oldest child and I have had a lot of these talks, and it always brings us closer. Once he asked me, "Does every kid go through this?" Yes, absolutely every kid goes through this. Knowing that seems to help him. So for the parents out there who might be having one of those curl up on the couch and whimper kind of days, I hope it helps to know that absolutely every parent goes through this, too.