Growing up, I had a really good friend who lived down the street. (We’ll call her Stacy – not because I particularly like that name but because I will be continually referencing Stacy’s mom, and if you get the joke, that will make this story all the more worth reading).
Stacy was an only child – the product of a business-savvy father and an attention-starved mother. From what my child brain could piece together, Stacy’s father was a twice-divorced, highly-successful entrepreneur who, at fifty, met a woman half his age, married her, then had Stacy. I didn’t know the family during Stacy’s early years of development, but I imagine it was a fairly normal upbringing with lots of adoration and love bestowed on Stacy from both parental units. Or, I’d like to imagine it was.
I met Stacy in the 5th grade when her family moved into our neighborhood. We would hang out after school, riding bikes or playing in each other’s respective yards. It all seemed normal enough except that every time I would say I had to leave to have dinner with my family or do homework, she would feign exacerbation or contempt. “Your parents sound mean. My mommy lets me do whatever I want.”
After these interactions, I would make the journey back to my house, my ten-year-old brain mulling over a world in which rules were obsolete. Needless to say, I was jealous and often wondered why Stacy’s mom had got it going on.
(See, I told you this story would be worth it, if not just for that one reference).
As Stacy and I grew in age and camaraderie, it became increasingly apparent that she was afforded freedoms I, nor most of my peers, had ever enjoyed. Since I can remember, Stacy’s mom would schedule shopping trips, manicures, weekends at the country club, really anything that would keep Stacy happy and reinforce their mother-daughter relationship that was built on friendship, not leadership.
Of course, teenage-me thought Stacy was sooooo lucky. While she was out having weekend staycations at the Ritz Carlton with her mom, I was forced to mow our lawn or babysit my sister or go to church. You know, actually learning how to be a well-rounded individual with responsibilities and work ethic.
In high school, kids caught wind of Stacy’s mom’s lackadaisical attitude and her place quickly became the place every kid wanted to go. You know that scene in Mean Girls when Regina George’s mom
declares, “I’m not like a regular mom. I’m a cool mom” Yeah, that was Stacy’s mom. She relinquished all parental responsibility and became a background fixture in all of our social activities – there to offer help or support, but never discipline or direction.
Years later and I’ve lost complete contact with Stacy. Once eighteen hit, she had no direction or life skills to fall back on. The rest of us pursued college or traveling or jobs, but she wasn’t equipped mentally, emotionally, or physically to navigate her own future or path. Last I heard, her parents were divorced and she was living at her mom’s, working at a coffee shop and trying to make it in the music industry.
Here’s the thing: as easy as it would be to rest the blame solely on Stacy’s mom for how she turned out, that would hardly be fair. In retrospect, I think Stacy’s mom was a lonely woman who never received the love and validation she needed from a husband that was never around. Having no job or friends (as far as I was aware), she probably wanted so bad to be loved by her only daughter, that she didn’t want to rock the boat and risk losing it. And that’s something I can sympathize with. I think many women have children to fill a void in their life; to feel an unconditional love they can’t get anywhere else.
The flaw with this approach is that kids are not designed to carry the responsibility of making sure their parents are ok. It’s the other way around. As a parent, you’re only job is to raise future adults. Period.
Your kid is not a toy to keep you entertained. Their purpose is not to make you feel loved or confident or to fill a void. These little people will one day be big people and you owe it to them to show them how to be independent, self-sufficient, driven, and respectful.
If you’re going to co-sleep, do it because your child really needs it, not because YOU need it. If you’re going to “save” them every time they fall (literally or figuratively), ask yourself if you’re doing it to help them or to extinguish any guilt YOU feel. If you’re going to help them with their homework, distinguish ahead of time that you’re doing it to help their self-growth, not make it easier for YOU. If you’re going to stick an iPad in their face at a restaurant, decide if you’re doing it because you’ve expended every other option available or because it gives YOU a sense of peace. If you’re going to confront their teachers about something that seems “unjust,” make sure you’re doing it out of legitimate concern that their teacher isn’t doing her job, not because YOU can’t stand the idea that your precious one could *gasp* be in the wrong.
Stacy’s mom was a kind person who – and I truly believe this – loved her daughter with everything she had. And there is nothing wrong with adoring your child. But when that love trumps teaching them skills to survive without you, you are no longer parenting for the sake of them, but for the sake of pacifying your own demons. And that just doesn’t work.