The Greatest Lie I Told My Daughter

When my daughter was little, I told numerous white lies: Chuck E Cheese is closed on Saturdays, the music means Mister Softee is out of ice cream, your fortune cookie says, “Be nice to your little brother.” 

“Again?” she’d ask. 

“Again,” I’d say. 

I’d turn off the news when she entered the room and tell her, “They just said it’s time for bed.”

My daughter convinced herself that we, her parents, could keep her safe

But the lie she made up herself, was the one she believed most fiercely, that her parents could protect her from anything. These words are the longing of all parents everywhere and maybe that is why we have such difficulty accepting they can never be true. 

It was easier to pretend for the first 10 years of our daughter’s life, when she was terrified of strangers and the dark, and always wanted to be next to us. If only we could return to those childhood fears. 

As a baby, my daughter would cry when someone unfamiliar came too close to her stroller. As a toddler, every nursery school drop off was an epic saga. In preschool she carefully observed each student but didn’t speak to anyone for the first several months. 

That pattern continued throughout elementary school when she had trouble making new friends and my husband and I just wanted a few hours to ourselves. 

I let my daughter believe that I could keep her safe. (Photo credit: Kim Brown)

My daughter needed to know we were nearby to feel secure

In her college essay my daughter was finally able to articulate the attachment, “I needed that comforting feeling, knowing my parents were nearby, able to help whenever I needed, there to protect me from anything.”

But we couldn’t. 

No one can.

There was a helpless feeling as I watched that realization dawn on her during adolescence, even though there is no other choice besides growing up.

(No wonder Peter Pan refused.) 

Her grandmother died when she was 10.

By middle school my daughter was commuting to Manhattan on crowded subway cars, sometimes witnessing aggressive begging or the distress of the mentally ill. When she was 11, we got her a cell phone meant for safety, but likely opening a Pandora’s Box of the world’s evils, despite every single parental control.

She gained independence, but also knowledge of the world

Those were the years when she gained the independence every teen longs for: rushing out of the house early to meet friends before school, coming home late and having sleepovers every weekend. 

Those were the same years she barely spoke to her dad or me, and we no longer wanted those hours to ourselves. 

It was all messy, painful, yet meant to be.

We only have children to let them go.

She has pulled back the curtain and realized we are just people

Now that she is a senior in high school and fully aware of current events, I often feel like the Wizard of Oz as Toto pulls back the curtain. Dorothy begs him to keep his promises, but it turns out he is not great and powerful, just an ordinary man who tried to maintain the illusion of a beautiful, magical world.

The less time she spends at home the more I want what she once did: that comforting feeling, knowing my daughter is nearby.

We spent last summer with cousins in Israel, this fall there are very few words left. My daughter is well past the years when she believed I had superpowers, or even that anything I said was helpful or made sense.

But if she would listen one more time, the way she did when she was a child, I’d say this: It’s true. I cannot protect you from this world, no one can, but I can love you more than anyone. And I do. And I did.

More Great Reading:

Parenting Teens Is a Delicate Dance of Holding On and Letting Go

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