“Mom, can you help me? There’s gum stuck in my hair.”
He kind of mumbled it. He knew it was his own fault. After reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ben had been walking around with gum behind his ear like Violet Beauregarde. I had warned him multiple times about getting it in his hair, but apparently he kept doing it anyway.
I probably let out an exasperated sigh. Under the influence of motherly frustration I said “I warned you, buddy. You’re on your own.” I know, it sounds so mean in hindsight! As he started walking off I suddenly had a little vision of a similar conversation, maybe 10 or so years down the road:
“Mom, can you help me? My girlfriend’s pregnant.”
This is just one of countless scenarios I’ve thought of since that I would not want my child to go through alone. And because I love him endlessly, because I have his best interest in mind, and because I have a little more experience to draw on, I want to be the one to help. But what teenager will come to me with a failing report card/DUI/depression/porn addiction if I wouldn’t even help him with the gum in his hair when he was six? What about when he’s grown and has financial, family or health troubles? Will he suddenly open up then?
We parents sometimes focus too much on prevention. And you can’t blame us! After all, we’ve been around the block and don’t want to see our kids go through the same hard stuff we have. But you can’t control everything, and least of all your kids’ actions, so I think it’s WAY more important to establish a pattern of helping your kids and supporting them through their problems. Start now – with the dumb little things they do that you’ve already warned them about. It’s hard to imagine sending off your adult son to file for bankruptcy with nothing but an “I told you so!” But somehow it’s hard to be compassionate about small things that are mostly just an inconvenience for you. To him it’s a huge obstacle in his path. And that’s when he needs you. If you’re there for him now, that pattern will be stronger when the big problems come. Because they WILL come.
So what happened with the gum?
I rushed after Ben, apologized, and helped him cut the gum out of his hair. It wasn’t even very bad, but he definitely couldn’t have done it on his own. I thanked him for coming to me with his problem, acknowledging that it was probably hard for him, and told him that I’ll always be here to help him, no matter what. I hope I can keep that promise.