The Awkward Dance of Parenting

Maybe the key to good parenting is knowing when to get the hell out of your child’s way.

I bought her flowers.

I complimented the elegance of her dress, the loose curls in her hair.

I made her laugh and held her hand as we posed for pictures.

I escorted her to the car, opened the door and ushered her into the backseat.

We walked hand-in-hand into the gymnasium, through the wake of thumping music to our table. I helped her slip off her coat and hung it on the back of the chair for her.

I was, by all definitions, a gentlemen.

Then she flashed that big jack-o-lantern smile, said, “Thanks dad”, spun toward her waiting friends then skipped away without even saying goodbye.

Damn you, Bob Carlisle

A few weeks ago Haley and I attended her school’s father-daughter dance.

She is 8 now, on the verge of 9. She rarely plays with toys. She talks to her friends on her iPad. She spins cartwheels around the house, she’s a picky eater, thinks her brothers are gross and likes a good pedicure.

My daughter is growing up. And it’s both astounding and downright terrifying.

For majority of the dance I stood with my hands in my pockets talking to the other dads about football and summer vacation plans.

Every so often Haley and her friends would buzz by. She would flash that smile, a wave and be gone.

When the DJ announced we had come to the last song of the night, Haley rushed over and asked, “Dad, would you like to dance with me?”

Of course, the last song was Bob Carlisle’s melter of men–“Butterfly Kisses”.

The 3 1/2 minute song is a musical microcosm of parenthood. It’s message is simple: Parenting is an awkward dance, a painful paradox of holding on while simultaneously letting go.

The Painful Paradox

As a high school teacher, I’ve witnessed the damage that occurs when parents hold onto their child too long.

A too-involved-parent often equates to an entitled, dependent and confused child. (Especially, when I explain I’m there to make them think– not to sharpen their pencils, hand them high marks, entertain their egos or celebrate their existence.)

Understand, I’m not here to throw stones.

Parenting is a terribly hard business managed by terribly flawed people.

But as a parent, I’m learning that holding on to your child for too long, is not only stifling for the child but it’s pure parental selfishness.

I want my children to be independent and self-aware. I want them to embrace self-efficacy and learn the power of perseverance. I want them to learn the kind of guts it takes to say “no”.

For this to happen, I have to let them go adventuring without me. I have to let them face danger. I have to let them endure embarrassment. I have to let them enter the ring, alone, and wrestle with the monsters of moral terror.

Of course, children need watchful parents.

Children need parents who impart structure and love and joy and disciple and chores. But children also need parents who know when to get the hell out of the way.

Meanwhile, back at the dance…

Bob Carlisle, is still singing and I’ve got to believe I’m not the only father feeling the tickle of tears.

I pull Haley a little tighter and we dance until the song fades away and the house lights come on.

I look down and her, she up at me, “I love you, Haley.”

“I love you too daddy.”

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Can I talk to my friends before they leave?”

And before I could answer she dashes off, sprinting into her young life leaving me behind with nothing to do but thrust my hands into my pockets and wait.

Despite showering Haley with flowers and praise and attention I was, like many more nights to come, left behind.

And though I want to call my daughter back, hold her, tell her how much I love, I know right now, the right thing to do is let her go.

Be well,

Jay