Monday, August 11, 2008

I Feel Like a Terrible Parent

I feel like a terrible parent. Aren't I always supposed to know what to say, what to do, how to make it better? As my kids grow older, the number of things I can make better seems to be dwindling rapidly...

About half an hour after I had tucked her into bed tonight, Little Mouse (who is eleven) drifted into the family room where The Chief and I were relaxing with a movie. She was clutching her two stuffed dogs, Polly and Ester (her names, not mine), and a little green beanbag frog she calls The Flying Frog of Doom. She folded herself into my lap and began to cry.

"I keep thinking about how one day I'm not going to be here anymore, Mom. And I won't be able to feel anything or think anything, and it scares me."

I put my arms around her and kissed her head, glancing helplessly at The Chief. I never know what to say when she comes to me with this particular fear. My gut reaction is to hold her tight and say whatever I have to say to make it better. But I cannot bring myself to feed her candy-coated platitudes to preserve her innocence a little longer. Besides, she's a pretty smart kid...I have a feeling she wouldn't believe me anyway. She blew the lid off the Santa Claus racket at the tender age of four...

I cuddled her close and I told her that no one really knows what happens because no one has ever come back to tell us about it. And that part of what is so scary about the whole thing is the not knowing. I glanced at The Chief again--Come on, say something helpful!--and started telling her some of the different beliefs I have heard about and read about. Then I told her that she wasn't always going to feel this way. That as you grow older, you start to accept the idea (do you? Or are you just too busy to worry about it much? I haven't quite figured that one out yet!). And that once you have a family of your own, you worry about it more in terms of those you leave behind than you do for yourself (that part is true...but at eleven she's got a way to go before she gets there!).

We talked a little bit about heaven and how that might work, and then The Chief told her that he found the idea of heaven quite worrying, because of all those people watching him go to the bathroom or take a shower. Then he did a wonderful imitation of his grandmother--complete with folded arms and glasses perched on the end of her nose--watching him and making rude comments.

Little Mouse went back up to bed laughing, but I always come away from these conversations feeling completely inadequate, and longing for the days when all that was required to make her world better was a cuddle or a diaper change. Those days were a lot harder physically...but at least when she was a baby, I could fix everything.

Writing Prompt: Write about a situation you have been in where you wanted to fix something, but knew that you either couldn't or shouldn't. Did you try to fix it anyway? Or did you leave it alone? Why?

13 comments:

Gianna said...

I love the stories about your kids...don't have anything to add right now, but wanted to say I enjoyed the story...I gotta get to bed!

Jazz said...

Glad you enjoyed it!
I hate not knowing what to say to her to make it better, you know? I'm Mom and I'm supposed to be able to make it better!

Gianna said...

Jazz,
Sometimes there is truly nothing to say...

You both sound like you handled the situation very well. To say you feel like a terrible parent is a shame...you love her and did all you could considering this strange state we are all born into---being human and mortal.

there are simply NOT answers for everything and she was dealing with that in this story...

I think you're a fantastic parent and moments like these even if painful sound so beautiful to me. I can imagine the pain, yes, but also how precious to have a little one come to you with the question of the ages....

mmm...my thwarted desire to be a mother is coming out..

Jazz said...

Gianna--
Thanks for the vote of confidence! Parenting is probably the toughest job I've ever had...I think the transition between the time when you can fix everything to the time when you can't is really hard. And it's hard knowing when you should step in and take over and when you should back away and let them deal with things.

Gianna said...

Jazz,
I feel like adding, that if you thought you could ever fix "everything," you were living an illusion and were also lucky your child didn't have anything serious happening to them that you couldn't fix...some things at all stages of life are simply not fixable.

we all live in uncertainty and have very little control over life and what happens in it when you boil it right down...

I guess it gets back to "letting go." What we talk about so often...

not that I'm at peace with that either...I'm having a hard time with all the change in my life right now and how little control I have...as we just mentioned in email.

Jazz said...

Gianna--
Oh, yes, I'm well aware that many things are not "fixable". But it is also true that you can usually help an infant feel better with one of a limited number of options. As they grow up and get into puberty and beyond, their issues become much more complex, and there are no easy solutions or easy answers. Parenting teens may be easier than parenting infants in a physical sense, but it's much harder mentally and emotionally...at least, it seems that way to me.

Wellness Writer said...

Jazz,
It is so difficult to figure out what to say for the questions that aren't easy.

I thought it would get easier as my son got older, but when he had difficulty adjusting to college and felt "different" from others who adjusted so easily and didn't worry about "life issues" because all they cared about was grades, I found it still isn't easy.

I, too, worried about being inadequate. Then I realized that even though I don't have all the answers, I pondered the same questions as he does and could at least let him know he isn't alone, and could share how I dealt with things back then, and what my perspective is now.

Because of all the bad advice he got from college administrators and counselors, I realized that even when I feel lacking, I'm still "better" than people who do this for a living!

Susan

Wellness Writer said...

Oh...and yes, parenting is the most difficult job I've ever had as well And the most satisfying!

Susan

catatonickid said...

I don't think you have to have the 'right' words for her. There maybe aren't any but the main thing really is you're there and she knows you're there. That's a whole bunch of good! Couldn't think of anything better, really.
She'll look back and remember you were there even when she was most afraid, and that's something pretty dang cool, I reckon.

Jazz said...

Susan--
The reason you're "better" than those who do it for a living is because you know him better than any of them do!

Jazz said...

Catatonickid--
Yeah, I think you've hit the heart of it--it's the being there and being supportive that's important, and not necessarily what I said. I need to remember that I don't always have the answers...and she shouldn't grow up thinking that I do...because none of us do, really.

Thanks for reminding me!

Marissa Miller said...

I've been dealing with that fear lately, clutching my husband at night with the fear that he'll be cold and blue in the morning. He's in perfectly good health but I get so afraid. Anything can happen.

Jazz said...

Marissa--
I think that's the thing I don't want to tell her yet, you know? Trying to preserve her innocence, her view of the world as a mostly safe place, for as long as possible. Because once we grow up, we do have to live with the idea that anything can happen.