The Push/Pull of Parenting

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My parenting time these days seems to be split equally between putting out fires and quietly fading into the background. Things go from one extreme to the other around here pretty quickly. It’s fire and ice. Spicy or mild. Extra crispy or original recipe. (Author’s note: I probably shouldn’t write when I’m hungry.)

The point is, when my kids need me – they need me.

Mom, I need you to wash my uniform!

Mom, I need you to take me to the mall!

Mom, I need you to sign this form!

But when they don’t need me, I am largely overlooked. I am not reviled; I am not adored. I am simply there. A permanent fixture, like a banister on a staircase or salt on a pretzel. Necessary, functional, but not something you want to focus on.

At 10 & 12, my kids are not really old enough to be embarrassed by me yet, but I can tell they are starting to create a distance in their minds. Upon any expression of my individuality, my 12 year-old gives me the jokey eye roll; my 10 year-old calls me “weird.” (Author’s note: Boy-howdy do I wear that label like a badge of honor – if you are not weird to a 10-year-old girl, you are without a doubt the most boring person who ever lived. Believe.) And most pre-teens I know would prefer for people to think they were zapped into this world, fully formed, the spawn of nothing and nobody, a blank canvas devoid of any outside influence, parental or otherwise. But kids this age still need things – things they can’t really get on their own. Having once been a pre-teen myself, I kind of remember this stage. I wanted my parents to be like genies, an external force there in an instant when I wanted something, and then zoop! back into their bottle until the next time. I’m starting to get that vibe from my kids.

But to my children’s great dissatisfaction, I do not exist to fulfill all of their wishes at a moment’s notice. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t – but whichever way the hammer falls, I do what I do for my kids in service of their impending adulthood. It is my one job as their mother: To create responsible human beings capable of living on their own.

So I guess it isn’t a surprise, when I look at it through that lens, that my practical significance in my kids’ lives is starting to diminish as they get older. This is what happens. I recently read a quote from Neil Gaiman’s Newberry Award acceptance speech for The Graveyard Book, a book that appears to be about childhood but is really about parenthood. He said,“[it is] the most fundamental and comical tragedy of parenthood: That if you do your job properly, if you, as a parent, raise your children well, they won’t need you anymore. If you did it properly, they go away.”

I agree with this sentiment down to my very bones. I mean, I don’t want my kids to ever “go away” permanently or anything. A phone call every now and then would be nice. (And it would it kill them to come visit once in a while?) But it is our job as parents to raise self-sufficient people. People who have lives of their own and jobs and families and friends and futures. People who hopefully like to spend time with their parents– but who don’t need us. Not really.

I know this is pretty obvious. We all head into parenting knowing what the end-game is. But when I used to think about the end-game when my kids were younger, I thought about it in 2 distinct stages: childhood and adulthood. I never really thought about what the process of getting from one to the other would look like. As I near the mid-point of this journey with my kids, I’m starting to learn what it feels like. For me, it’s a feeling of flickering importance. One minute, I am indispensable, the next I’m superfluous. I go from being the sun and the moon, to the wind in the trees, and back again, sometimes within the same hour. Sometimes within the same sentence. This schizophrenic push-pull is new, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

If I let myself think about too long, it makes me want to hold my kids tight and snuggle them into my bed and lock the doors and move to rural Alaska or 1902 or an episode of Little House on the Prairie -someplace or time when kids didn’t grow up so fast. But in other, more rational and less panicked-crazy-lady moments, I feel confident and comforted by the people I see them becoming – I know this is all as it should be, no matter how hard it is or how uncomfortable the process feels. (Author’s note: I guess they aren’t the only ones with the schizophrenic push-pull thing going on.)

I’d love to hear from others out there on how you feel about this – especially those of you with older kids. Despite the name of this blog, advice is always, always welcome here 🙂

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7 Comments on “The Push/Pull of Parenting”

  1. Scott Orr says:

    Beautifully written, Jill. Truth is we don’t “own” our kids; we just borrow them for a brief moment, then we blink, its over. But what a magnificent blessing…..something mere words can’t ever explain…..truly nothing like it……except grandkids!

  2. Ken Rakiec says:

    Jill ,Jill ,Jill may I call you Jill.I think you know my Kids ( Your Sisters in Laws ) .You are a great parent and friend to all and your biggest cross to bare now is Jimmy ;-). Wait until your kids don’t need you but ask for your advice.Respect you enough to listen.Its not that far away then you will be in a magic place in your life.You have seen it,done it, heard it and now you know the Future.Your Family and Friends are the lucky ones to have you and keep these insightful points of life coming forever …Thank you

  3. I have no advice, with a 2 year old and one on the way, but this was so beautiful. Thanks.

  4. Chrissy says:

    So sad….I am all for locking them in:)

  5. Jill, you and i are living parallel lives. I have 14, 11, and 8 year old kiddos in my house and every day I do my best to “reveal” (read: bark like a drill sergeant) their abilities to do it on their own. I don’t help with tying shoelaces, I don’t make their school lunches, and I don’t make their beds. However, as a mom, my kids seem only to see me in one and only role; the help. I will help when I know they’ve tried their hardest and aren’t able to accomplish the task themselves. I help as an extension of my children’s teachers. I help as a cook since I would rather not deal with smoke alarms and lopped off fingers. But I ALWAYS tell them my job as a mom is to raise them to be responsible, caring, and hard-working adults. My husband’s role seems to be a tad different than mine. His role fluctuates a little but mostly he is “fun guy”.

    Some day if/when my kids have their own kids (if I’ve done my job properly), I hope I get a “Thanks Mom” as they finally realize how fricking hard parenting is. And why every day I harped on them about the same…damn…things until they finally started doing it on their own sans harping. Those are the moments I live for.

    Lame? I don’t think so. I’m just getting the job done. 🙂

  6. stacia says:

    Such bittersweet thoughts!! Which I remind myself of as I’m still firmly in the “need you all of the time and would really love to be touching you ALL of the time, too” phase. Except if they’re playing Wii, then it’s encouraged for me to disappear and not disturb them under any circumstances.

  7. Frances Nortman says:

    What a terrific writer & person you are. The most wonderful card from you (which I still have & treasure) was thanks for giving you wings. I see you will also give wings to your children.
    Love, Mom


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