At first I thought the article about raising a terminally ill child might support some of my laissez-faire parenting techniques – you know, the ones where I’m always trying to avoid conflict with my fourth grade daughter – but Notes from a Dragon Mom had the opposite effect.
This heartbreaking New York Times opinion piece, written by creative writing professor and author Emily Rapp, about life with her young son Ronan actually gave me a kick in the pants about the importance of being there for your kids – even the moments when it’s hard and you and your child are not exactly seeing eye to eye. Because once those moments are gone, they are gone for good.
There’s no going back to that time when your daughter was a toddler and she didn’t want to do the pottery class you so wanted her to do and she cried and cried and you stormed ahead of her on the sidewalk because you were just so mad, so unbearably angry and she tailed behind crying and stumbling – all alone. Or the time you yelled because she wasn’t practicing piano like she should. She was banging on the keys and not playing properly. And you threatened to cancel lessons all together because they’re expensive and it’s a waste of money. Or any number of times you told her to do something and failed to hold her accountable for her actions in a firm, but calm way – or in any way.
No choice but to be in the moment
Emily Rapp is always in the moment with her young son because any moment could truly be his last. Her son was born with Tay-Sachs, a rare genetic disorder. Basically, Ronan is slowly regressing into a vegetative state, which will be followed by death within a few years.
Living with such a diagnosis is incomprehensible for most of us. Yes, we’re dealing with the failing health and slow decline of our parents, but our children? They are our best hope for the future. We want them to succeed where we failed, to find happiness and love, to be good human beings.
Reading Rapp’s piece, though, reminded me of the critical importance parenting. It’s still amazing to me that it’s harder to get a driver’s license than to have a child. I remember being pretty shocked when the hospital staff let me actually leave the premises with a tiny human. After my daughter was born, I had a really hard time with post-partum depression and anxiety. But I finally got it into my thick skull that she was the healthy one. She would be fine. It was myself I had to work on.
Step up, and parent
This is still the case, thankfully, for me. My daughter is the healthy one and I need to do the hard work of parenting. I do some things really well – playing with my daughter, planning enriching activities and events. But I am not good at holding the line with her.
Reading this piece made me realize the critical importance of giving my daughter clearly defined expectations. Emily Rapp doesn’t have the luxury of setting any expectations. Her job is only to love, and love more completely than many of us can even imagine – the kind of love that requires you to let go, for good.
But parenting a healthy child also means parenting completely, loving enough to set limits and expectations. It means being there completely when your kiddo comes home from school. It means finding a quiet moment to ask how school is really going. It means holding her and accepting her tears when she tells you it’s not going well – even though she has been putting a good face on things. It means loving her completely so she can tell you the truth and you can actually hear it.
My work is cut out. And I – in my less able moments as a mom – will try to remember Rapp’s words:
Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.