Category Archives: fear

The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

Parenting kids in middle and high school is such a complicated and lonely space to be in. When our kids are little we tend to share a lot about them. Holiday cards, social media posts, small playgroups, sports teams and parent clubs. The little cherubs happily pose for the camera without a whiff of self consciousness.

Somewhere around 5th grade things start to shift. The kids no longer want you to go public with what you think is cute. Concerns about privacy, social status and damage control start to creep into your thoughts. The kids disappear from your social media feed and you keep things under lock and key. The difficult stuff is whispered to your closest friends, a very limited set of eyes and ears. Even with those confidants the experiences are exhausting and isolating at times.

I’ve had days this past month that have absolutely gutted me. Pain for my child which housed a kaleidoscope of emotions; profound sadness, love, pit of my stomach fear, impatience and resignation. Fortunately the low points have been transient, replaced with more hopeful experiences, it goes in and out like the tide. I can only imagine the despair of families that reside in the muck for extended periods of time. I’m sure those parents are around me, they just aren’t talking about it.

The why of the reasons for not discussing things openly are a complicated stew of ego, protection, shame and insecurity. Shame that maybe we failed as a parent somehow – gave too much or too little. We were too involved or not vigilant enough. We haven’t properly adjusted the sails, we hit the gas when we should have braked and now we are spinning out of control.

The first inclination is protection. Protect the child at all costs from labels, embarrassment, bullies, the boogeyman, mistakes or misunderstandings that can negatively impact their future. That’s a tall order and some days I feel so small, minuscule, a speck of dust, insignificant. At this phase in their lives, your kids generally care more about friendships than family, at least temporarily. Another jagged pill to swallow, the person you want to help most in the world doesn’t necessarily want your assistance or your opinion. They will however, happily relieve you of $20. or the car keys when they start to drive.

Insecurity is the ghost that haunts us all whether we care to admit it or not. Insecurity is married to shame maybe not officially but they are at a minimum shacked up together. If I’m honest, this is the piece of parenthood I feared the most before we had kids. Knowing that I would make mistakes as all humans do. I also knew that making mistakes as a parent would cause me intense pain. Mind you I haven’t had colossal failures, just the usual varieties; having a more impatient tone than intended (this is called yelling), being a few months behind on the dental check up, and not being a constant shadow on their social media.

I’m sure some parents and kids skate through this phase without a pimple or a tear shed, I think those are the unicorns. Most of us take a deep breath and remind ourselves to have a friendly tone when we knock on our child’s bedroom door. We worry about over/under scheduling, setting reasonable expectations that neither diminish goals nor create neurotic overachievers. I’m still searching for that sweet spot of challenging my kids so they can bend without breaking.

 

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Fear

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Fear

My brain is a swirling mass of bad ideas, thoughts that want to tell me the worst. Imagined bad scenarios pile up like cars on an untreated highway during a rush hour ice storm in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s an unexpected, unanticipated disaster threatening and menacing, I could be taken out at anytime by what I don’t see in the blind spots, navigation is treacherous. No actual cars, just the thoughts in my head that I struggle to not breath life into. I keep them locked up in the darkest recesses of my mind where they ricochet like a vintage game of Pong on meth or speed or whatever causes the most damage and chaos.

What happened? Nothing much, it doesn’t take much. My husband could go out for a walk or to meet a friend for coffee and sometimes my damaged mind assumes diabolical situations – mostly that he is cheating on me or dead in a ditch, perhaps mangled in a car crash. Sometimes I think it’s a girlfriend or a hooker, other times I go full blown psycho and imagine the “other family” like a plot from Brothers & Sisters where I play Sally Field’s character. I try to distract myself from my own wicked thoughts and it’s exhausting. Like the duck which appears calm on the surface of the water but if you go underneath you see the frantic kicking of the webbed feet. I’m the duck cooking dinner and answering homework questions while my mind is imagining horrendous scenarios.

I talk myself off of my woman made mental ledge by giving myself an internal pep talk. He loves me I tell myself, knowing that isn’t enough. I mean plenty of guys that love their wives cheat or die in a car crash, statistical fact. I go deeper into my analysis – what time of the month is it? Last menstrual cycle was 22 days ago – interesting, the math works. Didn’t sleep more than 3 hours, got maybe 4 hours the night before last. What did I eat today? Have I exercised? I do much better when I sleep enough, eat well and get in a work out. Has anything different happened to make me feel vulnerable – why yes two family deaths in the span of six months, some collateral drama.

Much like the pilot of an airplane, I have a pre-flight checklist. If any of these items apply I note them and the demons of my mind step back a bit. It has taken years of self introspection and observation to acknowledge these pitfalls. Inevitably though it always comes back to fear of abandonment.

The scars of a dysfunctional upbringing are the echos that haunt me. In the arrogance of youth when I had more energy, was physically more attractive and had complete financial independence, I had the naivete to think the ghosts of my childhood wouldn’t haunt me. I remember my own mother telling me that there was a certain level of her own damage that she had come to accept as insurmountable. Late twenties me thought what a bunch of bullshit that was and how if you had awareness then surely you had the ability to make some changes.

The decades since have softened my views on this…certainly as individuals we have some control over our outlook on life. I have also come to view these deeper flaws in a way that I view grief. You cannot jump high enough or dig deep enough to get around it, you must go through it. You need to absorb your personal truths and recognize them when they float to the surface. By all means fight the demonic bastards with everything you’ve got, just recognize that they will continue to be unwelcome and hopefully infrequent visitors.

So as much as I hate to admit it, mom was right. Some of my fuckedupness is just a part of me and I need to make peace with it. Not panic when the – damn is he cheating on me or why are they late, did they crash the car thoughts come in, because they wilI. I need to glance at my pre-flight checklist and acknowledge that I have a fear of abandonment which is stoking the flames of the negative fires burning in my brain. I need to go after them one thought at a time – dousing them with logic and pragmatic reflection until they are just smoldering embers waiting for the next opportunity to ignite.