A mom friend of mine and I were discussing the daunting nature of our current world’s events, and how raising our children in this political climate is more frightening than we remember tensions being when we were growing up. (I assume every generation thinks this, but being that this is my first experience with motherhood, I agree to a point.) She then said to me with serious intent, “I just wish I could keep my son in a bubble forever.”
I was this close to agreeing, as we all tend to do in automatic response, especially when we’re either ambivalent, in major disagreement about, or simply uninterested in arguing a counterpoint. But, I stopped and really questioned my own thoughts on the topic. If given the choice, would I keep our son in a bubble of protection, away from the ugliness of the world? If presented my own bottled genie or magic wand, would I choose a life for him of total isolation from grief, rejection and pain? Believe it or not, I wouldn’t.
I love our two-year-old more than anything in existence. I would give my own life for his without hesitation. I am obsessed with everything about him: his big, soft, curious, hazel doe-y eyes, his plump cheeks and delicious baby jowls, his giggles, his scent, his wispy snow-white hair that gets attention everywhere we go, his ruby heart-shaped lips. There is nothing I wouldn’t protect him from, just like any mother would. However, I would never shield him from the immense growth that only reality can offer. I want to be selfish here, I really do, but by protecting him from real life, I would only be doing him a disservice.
My goal as a mother is to give our little boy the best possible life. Financially, emotionally, physically, and of course, ripe with experiences. And sometimes that’s going to mean allowing him experiences that involve a lot of discomfort. Don’t get me wrong, the mama bear in me will intrinsically catch him, protect him and be there to hold him tightly and wipe away his tears; but I think it is crucial that we permit him to fall down and skin his knees, to not be invited to every birthday party, to bury a family pet rather than telling him it “ran away,” to get his heart broken, to experience failure, or to be last-picked on the basketball team.
I need our son to know that, as much as we worship the ground he toddles (and stumbles) on, not everyone in this world will. I need him to grow up to become a strong man who is unshaken in the face of adversity; someone confident because of his failures in life; a backbone that is resilient in large part because when life was unfair to him, we told him the truth, offered him tools to enable him to cope, and taught him how to use them.
I know parents today raise their children under a very overprotective umbrella, and I understand how strong that pull is. However, I know in the big-picture perspective, the need to keep our children in a utopian bubble comes from our own fear. And living with, and raising a child based on fear is the opposite of living. If we aren’t preparing our children for the heavy range of emotion life presents as they approach adolescence, academics, first love and the first broken heart, the job market, financial responsibility, and later, maybe a family of their own, where will that emotional, physical and intellectual inexperience leave them?
In my personal (and at times, very painful) experience, my mistakes define me as equally as my accomplishments. In some respect, I am more proud of the moments that broke me into a million pieces, because I knew the only way back to the top was to humble myself, sharpen my senses, hone these new emotional skills, and prepare myself for the next time life, love, or another person tried to knock me down.
Do I want our son to experience pain? Of course not. Idealistically, that word wouldn’t exist in our world. But, it does. And he will experience it no matter how hard we try to resist. So, the way I am raising my son, is to expect pain, acknowledge it, respect it, and embrace those moments that knock him so hard that there’s nothing else to do but allow it to make him a more evolved, compassionate, humble human being. That’s the type of person this world needs more of.