Remember those first few moments of terror when your newborn baby came home for the very first time? Then there was that excruciating car ride with the car seat strapped in tight as the vehicle zoomed at sub-speed levels, crawling your way through the tenuous traffic and all the ‘crazy’ and ‘careless’ drivers who didn’t seem one bit concerned that you had a precious, hours-old life to protect and get home safely. Those rides home with both my sons were some of the longest rides of my life. I sat nervously next to both of them on their respective rides, while my husband navigated the treacherous roads to get us home. Once the babies are home, a part of you pleads and hopes that as they get a big bigger and stronger, riding in the car will feel less dangerous. The hope is that eventually the world will feel more safe as your children grow. It does and it doesn’t. You eventually get over yourself and use your car to transport them without much thought, of course strapping them in every single time, but then other dangers come into focus. It’s sort of like once you are at peace with something, another entirely new threat swoops in to threaten this peace.
For years I have managed my anxiety (slightly!) about sending my boys out into the world by either matching their clothes to each other’s, or if they dressed differently, making sure they were color-coordinated down to their socks. I know it sounds ridiculous, but for me, there was something comforting about the predictability and false sense of control this would give me. In a world where information about the horrors and dangers of raising kids is coming at us on a 24/7 basis, making sure my kids were in coordinated clothing, helped to distract me from my fears. I didn’t ever get push-back from my boys because mostly, they don’t care what they wear. As long as they are comfortable and it isn’t pink, they have no opinion. This allowed me to continue my weird color coordination fixation for years. Now, let me tell you, coordinating their clothes took a lot of time, effort and organization on my part. So, yes, it was a nice way to distract myself, but then one day it hit me. What the heck am I doing? Why am I spending all this extra time sorting through specific outfits and making my busy life harder than it needs to be? And, if my boys don’t care what they wear, then why should I? They are separate, interesting people and what they wear has no bearing on who they are and has no bearing on who I am. From that day on, choosing their clothes is on them. Sometimes it matches, sometimes it doesn’t, but I don’t pay much attention to it anymore.
Parenting anxiety is a real thing. Now that I don’t have my color-coordination clutch, I have to sit in more of my own uneasiness of letting them go into the world. A friend of mine recently shared a thoughtful parenting essay written by Anna Quindlen from November 2000 titled ‘Goodbye Dr. Spock’. At the time the author reflected on having raised her two then-grown children and how she questioned how much she actually influenced who they turned out to be.
“When they were very small I suppose I thought they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.”
For me, letting my boys choose their own clothes was my first small step to letting them unfold into their true selves without my interference. Inevitably all kids, the world and life unfold at will and accepting this will bring us more peace in the long run than trying to control any of it.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent
To read the entire essay by Anna Quindlen click here: ‘Goodbye Dr. Spock’