Through single motherhood, relocation from the continent back to Hawaii, custody battles, family drama, building a new relationship and creating our family, job changes, graduate school, and career readjustments, I’ve had very few moments in which I’ve questioned what or how I was doing as a parent. Parenthood has taught me not to expect the status quo — every day is different. Every day brings a new challenge or change, and every day you stretch a little bit more to be the parent you need to be.
These last few months in particular have offered me a new lesson: your kid is changing, and those changes are unpredictable, and your response to all these new developments will not be prescriptive.
Our kid is a lot like me when it comes to emotional responses and his closest circles. He hates to have any of his people disappointed in him or upset with him, so his default setting is to ignore issues, hide problems, and put on a happy face. Inevitably, his instinct to internalize creates a pretty large cache of STUFF that goes unprocessed and unfiltered, and up bubbles a whole lot of anxiety.
I get it. I know it. I lived it. But having this part of me manifest in our little guy is a whole new experience. Because I know what I’ve had to do to deal with this crappy coping mechanism (it tends to involve a whole lot of journaling, some serious therapy, usually some tears and, thankfully, a wife who gets me and whom I trust implicitly). But dealing with all of this in our kiddo isn’t so comfortable.
He’s nine. It’s hard to be a nine-year-old. You have all these things you know, you think you know, you want to know. You have a whole lot of things that you’re confident about because you have mad skills, and you’ve worked hard to acquire them. But then, there’s a whole lot that you’re uncertain about but it’s not always easy to find the words or ways to say it. And sometimes, you don’t even know if you can say it. The life a nine-year-old can be filled with some crazy, wild storms. I get that. And I get that all of this STUFF builds up. All of this STUFF makes it hard to be comfortable closing your eyes at night without worrying that something might go or be wrong. Maybe the butterflies in your tummy build up to a roaring tornado and you don’t exactly know why, it’s just the way it is.
But, what I don’t know is how to deal with it all. I don’t know if we need to be rigid and enforcing. I don’t know if we need to cuddle and walk slowly. I don’t know if we need to check the locks and lights together every night. Or if we need to make a list of everything that we’re scared of. I don’t know if we need to have nights when all we do is cry. Or yell. I don’t know if temper tantrums and sullenness is a part of our new norm, or if it’s all a phase we’ll tiptoe through together. I don’t know these things. Not yet.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t figure it out. It doesn’t mean that we won’t get through to the other side of this part of that whole kid/parent thing together. It just means that things right now a little bit rougher than they’ve been for us in the past.
In a nutshell, the lesson for these past few months is simple: I don’t have to know. I don’t have to know because we’ll figure it out together. That’s what this whole family thing is about. That’s why we’re pretty damn lucky because we have two mamas in this family that aren’t afraid of the work it takes to be a parent. And we have our boy who loves and leans into us when things are just out of sorts.
So, we’ll just put aside all the STUFF that we think we need to know or should know. We’ll stop worrying about all the expectations and the differences of what was and what is. Just let that all be. And, right now, we’ll just take it day by day, holding hands and figuring out what works for all of us in the here and now.