“Mom, it’s embarrassing”, she said as we stood in the driveway. Spoken in her most astute voice with a dead-pan expression of resolve across her face that told me she meant what she was saying. She never minces words. “Ok”, I relented, begrudgingly, but unselfishly. I knew it was embarrassing. She’s in sixth grade now. She’s eleven. I get it. And the truth is, I want her to be independent; maybe not as independent as she wants to be, but I want her to learn to take care of herself, to speak up for herself (who am I kidding, she’s got that one down pat), and to explore the world. I’m just not ready to begin letting go and letting the world get ahold of her, that’s all.
The bus stop is only one and a half houses away on the corner of our street. I walked through two neighborhoods, and across the busiest street in town on my way to school when I was her age. I wasn’t offended, I would be embarrassed too if I were her and my mom was still walking me to the bus stop…all of 150 feet away. When she was younger I was the mom that would call the house of the sleepover to make sure she was “behaving herself”, but in reality it was because I needed confirmation that she was ok while out of my sight. I just don’t know how to not be there with her. How do I stop hovering so she can fly? I suppose that question is old as parenting itself.
As children grow they slowly become less and less under your care and guidance and more and more in control of their own mind and actions. I want this for her. I want her to feel secure enough to be able to make decisions for herself. I want to nurture that strong sense of self that tells her she is her own person who can be accountable for her own life. The kind of nurturing that instills the values I want her to adopt as her own, but gives her room to actually test them out in order to adopt them.
I want to be her best friend, not some overbearing annoyance. I want to give her room to come to me when she needs me, and not have to struggle to run away just to take a breath for a moment of solace away from me. I know that all parents have to find a way to keep that fine balance as their children become young adults, but for some reason I think parents of child loss generally have a more difficult time finding and keeping that balance.
When Miss Elliott was alive she needed me every second of every day for her every conceivable function. And not only are we mothers and fathers of severely disabled, terminally ill children in such high demand in caring for our children, but inherently we suffer their loss. Suddenly our established routine of being so needed diminishes drastically when that happens. We have suffered the worst nightmare a parent can have; our child has died and our responsibility as a parent (to them) is over. How do we move on with our other children? It’s an otherwise illogical thing to try to process, when generally one is once a parent, always a parent.
I’ve discussed this topic at length with other mothers in my position, most notably in our Women’s Group at the annual family conference for parents of terminally children of lysosomal storage disorders. One of two outcomes seems to transpire in each family’s loss. Some parents become hyper-protective of their other children, while others become disengaged, and in some ways even push their children away in an effort to distance themselves from the potential of yet another loss. In either scenario we’re acting on a vain attempt to try to control the future, but one that is ultimately born of the experience of love and loss in the first place.
You see, grief is something that we parents of loss live with, and will live with for the remainder of our lives. It affects every facet of and person in our lives as it is transmitted through us. It is a constant struggle to recognize, rationalize, work though, and remedy the ache in our hearts as it applies to those facets and those people in order to heal and not to further harm them, including our other children.
Children don’t ask for any of the circumstances they endure as children, be they good or bad, but they certainly do deserve parents who do everything in their power to prevent as much of the latter as possible when it applies to their growth as healthy human beings. And they definitely deserve parents who do not contribute any negativity or hindrances to that growth. I can’t ask my daughter not to grow up. I’ve already lived through the alternative. My responsibility to her is not to make her my pet, something I own and control, it’s to grow her into the amazing woman I know she is on the path to becoming. To help her realize her potential, and do everything I can to help her develop the tools necessary for successfully navigating life, both the triumphs and challenges. Ideally with a guarded, but not hardened heart.