Dear young parent

Posted

I am not one of you anymore.

This week, a young lady asked if I had any school-aged children. It was a natural assumption. She is on her way to college, and I have been graduated from college for more than a decade.

Sometimes I feel like I'm not that far removed from the stage of life she is in now, but the reality is that I am two years removed from raising a teenager. 

I came home to school pictures of my son that arrived in the mail. In one pose, he is standing in front of lockers and looking very much a middle schooler, which he is.

Therefore, I speak to you now not as a young parent or one who has sent a child out into the world to determine his own path. I am somewhere in the murky middle.

I am not going to offer advice. For that, you’ll need to look for a podcast or a TED Talk. Maybe go old school and pick up a parenting manual.

I've been winging it for 11 years. You're about to hear how that's worked out for me.

Here's what you can expect in the next decade or so.

Do not expect that you will get better at this thing called parenting. People will tell you, especially if you seem especially freaked out in those early days, that one day it will all click for you. These people are not doing you any favors with such talk.

If you’re anything like me, there will never be a day that you look in the mirror and think, “I am parenting better than anyone else has every parented before.”

There will be days that you will be lulled into a false sense of security. Then something will happen that you feel completely unprepared to navigate as a human being, much less as a parent, and you'll be right back to the moment when you kept looking over your shoulder because you were certain someone from the hospital was going to stop you from taking this baby home.

Yes, you will get better at certain aspects of parenting, but as soon as you master it, your kid will likely outgrow the need for the skill that you have so painstakingly mastered.

Keep this checklist handy. Has the kid eaten lately? Is he clean? Is he wearing clothes? Does he have a place to sleep tonight? Is he relatively happy with the way his life is going right now? 

If you can say yes to these things, then you’re doing okay. 

Here’s the good news. Your kid will probably not recognize how ill-equipped you are. I have personally witnessed a mother about to go to jail for selling her child’s medication and the same child has rushed to this mother and wrapped his arms around her waist like she was his whole world. Because she was, no matter how many illegal things she did.

Know that life doesn’t give you a pass because you’re a parent. The good and the bad are going to keep happening to you, and the kid is going to be there for all of it. You don’t get to protect him nearly as much as you think you will. 

Let’s talk about this kid. With every year that goes by, you’ll get to know more about the little person that has been entrusted to you.

He’ll go through phases and try on new identities. You may think you’re not raising a reader, and then he’ll read every Harry Potter book by the end of third grade. You’ll say that he’s not the athletic type and then he’ll ask for baseball equipment for his birthday.

There will be times that you see yourself in him and other times that he will force you to see yourself in a new light. Like the day that he says he’ll do an impression of you and it’s just a deep sigh. Because apparently your way of dealing with the world is to sigh. A lot.

At some point, you’ll realize that the years he likely has left under your roof are fewer than the years you’ve already had him. He won’t exactly be a kid at that point, but he certainly won’t be grown. He’ll be in the murky middle too.

I'm going to be honest with you here: the murky middle isn't fun. It's why you don't see a lot of pictures of it on those social media feeds that other parents so carefully curate.

The murky middle is hard as a parent because you know what the years ahead look like, and some of it isn't pretty. You'll hear about all the horrible things that kids his age are experiencing now and it's going to freak you out.

You're just going to have to trust yourself, trust your partner and trust your kid (probably in that order).

The bright side to this period is that one day you'll look up and realize that you are closer than ever to seeing the adult that your kid is gradually becoming. 

Hopefully, you like what you see and you can take a moment and tell yourself, "I'm doing okay."

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Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor and co-host of Left on Red, which can be found wherever you get your podcasts. She can be contacted at jennifer.cohron@mountaineagle.com.