As happy as your unhappiest child



Tell one of your kids that you would prefer that they complete college before enlisting in the Armed Forces, and they’ll break both their legs running to the recruiting office.

Or request that they be practical in selecting a career, one that offers job security and a decent wage, and there they are—trying out for American Idol or joining the circus.

I tell you, things never turn out quite like we planned, huh?  And sometimes even their plans have gone awry, with even youth and hope on their side.

We can’t always make decisions for our kids: watching them learn from their mistakes is a trial most of us go through. © Banana Stock

Yes, I’ve had my share of sheer joy, but it’s often offset by my wishing I owned stock in the Kleenex company. Forget about crying a river-—more like crying an ocean—all seven of them!

Why is it that the very last thing you ever could imagine comes to pass? I mean, a school administrator has a child who drops out of school, a police captain has a family member who commits a crime, the ‘ugly duckling’ of your graduating class turns out to be drop-dead gorgeous and you’re standing next to her for the class reunion photo. And myself a columnist, who has sold newspaper articles across the country, has readers who ask me for advice, but I have a beloved child who has made poor choices and taken a few detours in life. The irony is that of all my children, this one who has given me heart palpitations, has the personality that blends the most beautifully with mine. I can act like a bonafied jerk and unconditionally he accepts me for who and what I am. Imagine, being practically adored for exactly who I am and the heck with all my imperfections.

How many parents wish that they could take their children’s pain and hurt to spare them the agony.

Have I afforded this person the same privilege? Not even remotely. This ‘child’ can act like a real dopey dork and I’ll jump twenty feet in the air and scream and yell until they can probably hear me in the next county. Of course I’m not proud for not having a firm grip on my emotions or the situation, but you see, my lofty dreams for my children haven’t all been realized. And maybe they shouldn’t be, because they’re my dreams, not theirs. When will we parents ever learn? Even quick studies can’t quite catch on to all this parenting stuff.

It’s been a long rough road, but if I’m tired, how must they feel, our children, or more precisely, this one offspring who can’t quite grasp that all crummy choices have consequences? Phenomenally popular in high school, I feel this one peaked and then felt there was no place to go but down. They say that’s one of life’s tragedies—being a big fish in a small pond in your younger years and then faltering in the outside world. How many parents wish that they could take their children’s pain and hurt to spare them the agony, but didn’t we have to shoulder our own suffering and look where it got us. Do I have to say? Actually, it has knocked me off my high horse when I’ve felt I was once invincible, and instilled in me a deep compassion for the underdog.

I have none of the answers, so just like my one child who keeps plugging along, I’m stumbling too.

“Let them fall on their faces,” the experts cry. “If you coddle them you’ll be raising emotional cripples.”

Does anybody know the difference between coddling and caring? If I slip a 50 in a birthday card, is that taking away their incentive to go to work on Monday? If they’re driving on bald tires do I just look the other way and pray to the guardian angels to hover over them a little closer? I believe in angels, but I also believe in tires with terrific traction—so there goes five hundred dollars!

Seems to me I should have some of the answers, but the truth is, I have none of the answers, so just like my one child who keeps plugging along, I’m stumbling too.

“A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child.” Well, today my heart rate is quite normal, thank you. My struggling offspring is inching his way on the right road—please angels, keep him safe, so as I, a mother, won’t remain an emotional cripple. We owe it to our children to be the grown-up, not one of their many friends, but to be a teacher who supplies them with life’s coping skills. That’s both the least and most we can do for our children.

KAREN WHITE-WALKER is a freelance writer from New York.


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