Why We Fear Our Kids

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Ok, this is weird.  What mom considers being afraid of her own child a badge of honor?

Me, apparently.

Yesterday I took my 17-year-old son to the department of motor vehicles to get his permanent driver’s license.  To replace his provisional license, he needed me, plus two utility bills, to prove he was a resident of our city.  All in, the chore churned through roughly two hours of valuable Mom-time, about which I did not complain once.

On the way to the car, darling son ducked into Subway to buy a quick lunch with my $20 bill.  I ducked into Coach, which was having its first-ever-in-the-history-of-Coach sale. 

Shoes for $79!  Purses and wallets for $29!  Mesmerizing bright shiny trinkets.

Until I realized my boy was probably waiting for me.

“My son is going to kill me!” I kind of…proudly…told the nice salesperson holding up a pair of silver four-inch heels. I practically ran out of the store. 

Then I was so flummoxed – he’s gonna kill me! – that I couldn’t see my own child waiting at the corner eating a sandwich as big as his head.

Later that same afternoon, I sat in a meeting.  I had just posted my first blog about going through a divorce.  Readers liked it, so I decided to Tweet it.

By accident, I put it up on my son’s Twitter feed instead of mine. I have roughly six Twitter followers. He has a few hundred. All teenagers he actually knows, goes to school with, and sees every day.

Mortified, I ran from the meeting to rectify the situation.  But truly, as I was leaving, I wanted to make an announcement to the team about why I needed to leave.  I actually thought they might find it interesting.

Again, I discovered I was oddly…proud…that I was afraid of my son.

Maybe I am just unusually polite.  A model of consideration. Setting a good example?  Showing my son how to make a sincere apology?

Nope. That is not the true story.

Somehow, I am proud to fear my own child.

This is nuts. What is this about?I have watched people fear their own children.  A couple unable to discipline a toddler in a restaurant. A mother afraid to refuse her tween daughter a see-through Forever21 halter top.  I always thought they were imbeciles.  Bad parents.  Weak people.  No self-esteem!

Now I get it.  They just love their children too much.  And love can be weird, despite what Hallmark and Disney would like us to believe.

In my defense, there are mitigating circumstances. I am getting divorced after 20 years of marriage to my children’s father.  The separation of our households may include shared custody of our three kids.

So logically, I might have somewhat less time with my children going forward.  This is an undeniable loss.  Naturally I’m feeling insecure about the transition. 

Plus my son is heading to college in a year (we hope). So he’s leaving me.  I don’t want to make him angry or disappoint him.  He may never come back!

It is also worth a footnote to explain that I am not physically afraid of my son (as some parents, sadly, are – or perhaps should be). 

My bizarre behavior speaks instead to some obtuse maternal bond. Something along these twisted lines of logic: “My son may be growing up and leaving me, but he must really love me, because I’m afraid of him!  And see what a good mom I am?  I am terrified of letting him down even for a few minutes!”

Motherhood is so strange.  Filled with unexpected revelations about how base and pathetic love really is. 

Parenthood’s gift, for me at least, is that it has shown me how deeply I can love. How love can turn me inside out and upside down.  How vulnerable love can make me feel.  That a deep dark piece of love is actually fear. 

Like breastfeeding and changing diapers, love is messy.  Occasionally, more of a curse than a gift.

Another truism is that parenthood is built on constant change.  First you figure out how to fix a bottle; then you move on to cutting grapes without creating a choking hazard. You master negotiating with a five year old, and a year later, you have to come up with more advanced tactics. 

My life is changing.  My kids are growing up.  My parenting skills must, as always, evolve.

I actually hope my kids do leave me one day.  But that’s not something to fear – or scream about — from the sidewalk corner outside Subway or a boardroom table.  Letting go of my kids, and my perverse parenting fears, is just the next phase of a job well done.

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