A Grown and Flown friend writes: When I was six months pregnant, something happened that changed the course of my life. A young man who worked for my husband, and his wife, had a six-month old baby boy who they left with a nanny while they were at their jobs. One day, the nanny violently shook the baby and he died. The story was all over the news — even on Oprah. We attended the wake. The following day I went into premature labor, was hospitalized and put on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. I barely remember how I passed the time except for reading a stack of parenting books! Prior to this I always assumed I would go back to work after giving birth. But now I was terrified about leaving my baby with anyone for any length of time. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to become a stay-at-home mom— someone I never envisioned becoming. I was taking a different path.
I launched into this new phase with the same energy and focus I had applied to my career. After a while, it seemed unlikely to me that I could split my attention and devotion by going back to work, or even by having another child.
When I look back on my child-rearing years, it’s not so much things I wish I had done better, but rather things I wish I had done less of, like not being so quick to help fix every situation my daughter struggled with. But in my quest to be a very different mother than the one I had, I was determined to be really present for her. I didn’t want to miss any of it, and I didn’t. I spent endless hours in the car driving her to school and to all the extra activities. For years I resented the driving, but as she got a bit older, I realized that it was a gift to have time with her alone while I was behind the wheel.
I think I accomplished my goal of being there for her, and truly understanding her and giving her what she needed. Maybe I accomplished it too well. It’s amazing that she grew up to be so unspoiled and lovely, considering all the attention I heaped onto her.
To this day, I think back on what happened to the parents of the helpless little boy that tragic day. Maybe someone less intrinsically fearful than me would not have reacted as strongly. The family went on to have three beautiful, healthy children, and I know they somehow survived something that seems impossible to me. The pressing need to keep my daughter safe is still very powerful, only now that she’s in college, I have even less influence (though I try to send her thoughts telepathically!) For eighteen years she has been my overwhelming focus. It’s about time to switch gears. I hope I remember how.