Kids must find their own way to the right path

Talk turned, as it generally will, to the folly and flaws in raising children. The women sitting on a Midtown porch last week had children in ages that ran from toddler to my oldest, a senior in high school, and talk ran to the transition from the indiscretions of a child to those of a teenager; how the innocent fibs of the child become the lies of the teen.

These lies — at whatever age — are something that they’re trying on. As maddening as it may be, it’s a world they have to step inside of and walk around. The game of trust begins early and playing along is the only way for them to learn what fits and what doesn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong. As parents, we guide our kids through that maze, pointing out their mistakes along the way and catching them when they trip and fall.

Eventually they’ll have to make their own decision to turn right or left, and we might not be there to point the way. At some point, we may find it wiser to step back and simply watch which way they turn on their own. And that might be the toughest part of being a parent — letting our children make their own mistakes.

I was the lone male on the porch swing, a fly on the honeycomb wall, and those women had their antennae out for their daughters, especially. As a man, I might not have understood how slim the margin is between a teenage girl’s decision-making and her self-esteem until this night. “We have to tell them how valuable they are to us and hope that they see the value in themselves,” my wife said.

One mother’s daughter had recently made a wrong turn and the question asked of the hive that night sounded exhausted: “What do I do now?”

Where do you draw the line at punishment for an act that could be chalked up to a “life lesson?” It’s a slippery slope, a blurry line between acting too strictly and losing trust, or not strictly enough and losing a child. Now, the transgression wasn’t as harrowing as that, but there were enough stories of loved ones lost too soon or of those set on a path of lifelong troubles among these queen bees that any transgression was to be taken seriously.

The labyrinth our kids are exploring is the same one we all went through as adolescents. And our own experiences muddy the waters since we can all admit we experimented the same way at their age. “And I turned out OK,” everyone said.

And they have, too. These women are professionals and engaged in their community and in their children’s lives. And yet, with all of the collective years of experience among them, the only consensus at the end of the night was that this is very difficult, this job of parenting. There are no hard-and-fast rules, no easy answers, no black and white. Awash in gray, the women encouraged each other and propped each other up, offering whatever help they could.

No matter the decisions our kids make — or that we make for them for as long as we can — I hope that these are the sort of thoughtful and caring adults my own daughters, and my sons for that matter, turn out to be.

Link to The Commercial Appeal