I knew that at six weeks pregnant, my baby, the size of a lentil, was already forming its nose, mouth and ears, and that its heart was beating twice as fast as mine.
I knew that at six weeks old, my baby would start being awake for longer periods of time, and that it was a good time to support his sensory development with lullabies and classical music. (I chose reggae).
At six months, I knew that my baby might roll over for the first time, that I could introduce finger foods, and that it was time to start childproofing our home.
But no one told me that at six years old, my baby would be bullied in school or that his best friends would start to exclude him at recess. I never knew that a first grader could start to question his own worth, value and intelligence.
I never knew that I would love my baby so much it hurt.
When my husband and I made the decision to start a family, we envisioned rocking a tiny version of ourselves in our arms. We knew to expect sleepless nights, dirty diapers and a living room that more closely resembled Toys R Us than Pottery Barn. When I got pregnant, we started dreaming up baby names, taking pictures of my expanding midriff, and tracking which autumn vegetable our unborn baby matched in size. What To Expect When You’re Expecting was perched upon my nightstand; the bookmark one chapter ahead so I could anticipate what would happen next. I counted kicks, and wondered whether those little feet belonged to a boy or a girl.
On the day our son was born, our biggest decision was whether to name him Teddy or Gus. We felt prepared to keep our child happy, healthy and safe. “All you have to do right now is love and feed your baby,” said the nurse in the Star Wars scrubs as she escorted me toward the sliding doors. “There is nothing else he needs.”
So far, I thought as I held my swaddled newborn closely and inhaled his Johnson & Johnson-scented skin, I’ve got this motherhood thing down.
While those first weeks, months and years were far from easy, at the end of the day I could crawl into bed feeling like I was doing something right. I followed my instincts, had my moms’ group on speed dial, and Googled articles about diaper rash and potty training. We bought organic milk and didn’t give him peanut butter until his first birthday. We read him stories and sang Van Morrison songs off-key. “Tummy time” was a topic of conversation.
These days, it’s more complicated. I lie in bed questioning whether I said the right thing when my son told me that he was being teased or had to sit on the “buddy bench” because he had no one to play with. I wonder if we chose the right school; the right town, even. I agonize over why other kids find my boy an easy target. I plot an imaginary revenge that I know I can never carry out.
The parenting books never tell you that when your child hurts, you hurt. That you would do anything to take their pain away, that you would go to any lengths to make them feel better. And that sometimes, you can’t.
Sometimes I wish I could build a bubble around my boy and never let bullies or texting drivers cross his path. I want to pick him up from every high school party so I know he’ll get home safely. I want to sit on the buddy bench all day long, just in case he needs a friend.
But I know that the best thing I can do to protect my son is not to prevent anything negative from ever happening to him but to prepare him for the inevitable challenges ahead. I want him to know that he is smart, that I am proud, and that he is brave.
What I wish someone had told be about parenthood is that it doesn’t get easier just because they can buckle their own seatbelts and brush their own teeth. The challenges change, and the answers get more ambiguous. The gray area grows until black and white are barely decipherable. I can’t even fathom the day–though I know it will come–when I don’t know where my children are at all times. When my signature on a permission slip is no longer required. But I also know that the more I coddle my children now, the less resilient and capable they’ll be later. With independence comes letting go.
Sometimes, when my half-asleep son crawls into our bed in the middle of the night, I order him, bleary-eyed, back to his own. Other times, I pull his warm body close to mine, and never want to let go.
About the Author: Liza Bennigson is a mom of two and the Content Marketing Manager for Teen Mental Health at CHC. She enjoys running, writing, and spontaneous dance parties with her kids. Find her on Medium and Twitter @LizaBennigson.