I tried to tell her:
This way the twig is bent.
Born of my trunk and strengthened by my roots,
You must stretch newgrown branches
Closer to the sun
Than I can reach.
I wanted to say:
Extend my self to that far atmosphere
Only my dreams allow.
But the twig broke,
And yesterday I saw her
Walking down an unfamiliar street,
Face slanted upward toward a threatening sky,
She was smiling
And she was
Her very free,
Her very individual,
I don’t recall anyone telling me that it would be so hard being a parent. That I would have to breach such difficult topics or that I could feel so heartbroken to see my kids hurt or embarrassed. But I guess I was never told it would be easy, either. I think that’s the trick of parents. They tend not to talk openly to expectant parents because if they did, no one would perpetuate life. If we all knew the strife that comes with raising kids, surely we’d all say “no thanks”, right?
Or maybe not. Because obviously, many of us decide to take it on. After all, despite the uncertainties, I’m pretty sure that we all have an inkling of what parenthood is like, long before we are parents ourselves. We are all kids--all teenagers-- at some point, and know of the things we did to our own parents and how they dealt with us. We know what jerks kids can be to each other--and to parents, for that matter. We know the trials kids face and the pressure they feel. We’ve been there.
But when we become parents, our eyes are opened and we see everything differently. We gain an understanding for why our own parents did all they did. And we sometimes feel our inner teenager cringe at what we put them through. We see our kids start to make their own decisions, and we puff with pride or we close our eyes and rub our temples in dismay.
It’s a parent’s nature to protect her children, and Rick and I may be a little overprotective by some standards. We don’t allow sleepovers. Late-nights are okay, as long as the other parents are home, and even then, we are super selective about where the kids can go. We don’t allow the kids to watch PG-13 movies unless we have previewed the movie and it can be edited through our Clearplay DVD player. Olivia has a cell phone, like many twelve year olds, but it’s nothing fancy--just an old flip phone with no internet access and no apps. It’s mainly a way for us to keep in contact with her when she’s not at home. She’s not allowed to text or chat with boys on it. And we read every text that’s received and sent.
It’s easier to protect Liv and Ike when they’re inside our home. Other people may not always have a kid’s best interest in mind. Or they may be completely unaware of the kid altogether. Last year we flew to Moscow, ID. The men in the seats behind me and Olivia were around 50 or 60 years old, and were swearing up a storm. When I realized they weren’t going to stop, I turned around and politely said, “Could you please watch your language? I have my daughter here.” They sheepishly apologized and after we alighted from the plane, one of them again apologized and said I did the right thing in asking them to stop swearing.
Because we are our kids’ models of what an adult and a parent should be like, we have to be courageous. Today at our Regional Conference, Elder Brent H. Neilson of the Quorum of the Seventy said that when we show our kids that we have the courage to stand up for what’s right, they will have the strength to do so too. And in General Conference, Elder Larry R. Lawrence, also of the Quorum of the Seventy, said, “There are no perfect parents and no easy answers, but there are principles of truth that we can rely on.” Referencing Joshua 1:9 (“Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid”) he went on to say:
This phrase from the scriptures would be a good theme for parents... In these last days, what the world really needs is courageous parenting from mothers and fathers who are not afraid to speak up and take a stand...
Challenges and temptations are coming at our teenagers with the speed and power of a freight train. As we are reminded in the family proclamation, parents are responsible for the protection of their children. That means spiritually as well as physically.
Several years ago at general conference, Elder Joe J. Christensen reminded us that “parenting is not a popularity contest.” In the same spirit, Elder Robert D. Hales has observed, “Sometimes we are afraid of our children—afraid to counsel with them for fear of offending them.”
Young people understand more than we realize because they too have the gift of the Holy Ghost. They are trying to recognize the Spirit when He speaks, and they are watching our example.
I know that there’s nothing I can do to prevent the kids from growing up. I also know that there’s nothing I can do to ensure that they won’t make stupid mistakes. And that part of being a parent is probably the worst. And I know it only gets tougher as the kids get older. But I also know that I can do everything in my power to be a good example to them. And hopefully they will know that they can be strong and stand for something. I hope I see them walking down an unfamiliar street, feet confident, face slanted upward toward a threatening sky.
And I hope they are smiling.