I posted this question the other day on a social media site:
"Have been wondering on this a bit, as I've seen bits and pieces of it play out among friends: what do you think is the best way to handle a child's (refusal, inability, lack of desire to participate in or choice to turn away from) something you think is important at age 16? 18? Age 20? Let's assume the child is more or less healthy, more or less reasonable, and not doing something so absurd that an HBO special might be involved. Let's also assume the thing of importance is relative in that it matters to you, not necessarily everyone - so faith, formal education, healthy eating habits, lifestyle - whatever it is, the point is your child is going the other way. What next at each of those ages?"
I got quite a number of insightful, sweet, and sage replies. The interesting thing is that I'm not troubled by any of these issues quite yet. I'm just trying to prepare in advance.
The day after this posted, my dearest childhood friend called to tell me that she and her husband had made the decision to admit their son, my godson, into an in-patient facility for treatment. He is 9. They can't plan for the teenage years because they can't see past the next hour, the next five minutes. All if it is filled with pain and worry. And none of it has come by false choice or wicked refusal. He is in the dark and they can't seem to stop it.
I think of my own son. He's been a little testy with me lately, short answers, the dreaded eye-rolling, shrugged shoulders. And in these moment of trying I'm frustrated and testy myself.
Then. I know.
A boy who wakes up faithfully every day to work hard in school, who is a good and loyal friend, a loving brother and mindful son -- such a boy is entitled to some trips off of that straight line. In fact, a little wandering off is good for the soul and instructs a person's character. I'll admit it doesn't really bother me all that much, even if my role as parent is to keep corralling and re-directing to the center.
Pain that may come from choices made is the kind that teaches you, so I'm o.k. with that. What I may never be able to abide is helplessness in the face of my child's undeserved pain. And I will do anything, everything and things not even imaginable to keep my child from that kind of pain until I can't do any more. And then what if I end up exactly where my friend is?
My mom always told me "It's not the stuff you plan for that gets you. It's the stuff you never saw coming." The truth is none of us knows what is coming, as our parents did not know what would come for them. So you stand for something, you work for something, you love all the time and then you must hunker down like a Chicago bungalow before a storm and brace yourself.
Not for the feint of heart, this parenting thing.