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When I was pregnant with "J" 20 years ago, I scoured What to Expect When You're Expecting practically every day, searching for answers to my many questions. Did my baby still look like a tadpole? Could he hear? Then when he was born, I read more books to decipher every sniffle, poop and skin condition. I was a new parent after all, and he didn't come with instructions. I don't know when it hit me, perhaps when was about 3, but I eventually did realize he was probably pretty sturdy (after all, I hadn't killed him yet). I put down the books and I started looking at him to find out what I needed to do next. I had slowly begun to trust my parenting instincts.
As J grew from baby, to toddler, to little boy, to tween, I talked to other parents when I got flustered about parenting, and we all shared stories and questions about our children's development, and I felt that I had things fairly under control. But what happens when kids become teens, and this happens gradually, almost imperceptibly, is that you start to have a little less contact with other parents and kids at school. You are not there for pick up and drop off, you don't hang around at play dates, and you don't always see all of their friends. In short, you miss some of that face time that you had enjoyed up until then.
The first time that this really hit home was a Halloween night when J was about 15. We live in Manhattan, and he was out at a party at a female classmate's house in Queens. His curfew was 10:30. My phone rang at around 9:45. It was the boy, "Uh, mom? Uh … it's getting kind of late, my friend's mother said I could spend the night, can I?" Whaaa??? It was a question that no one had prepared me for. By now, he should have been on the subway, headed home, and he was still at his friend's house. The trip was about an hour long.
I felt a mixture of panic (my "baby" on the subway on a crazy night!), and anger (irresponsible kid! why didn't he leave earlier!!). I'd heard about his friend, let's call her "H", but it was still early in the year. I hadn't met her yet, but I knew that they were just friends at that point. Obviously, I didn't know her mother or father either and the idea of him spending the night with strangers made me uneasy... to say the least. But I wasn't crazy about the other option—my kid on the subway alone on Halloween night with drunken revelers in costumes. I stood frozen in my tracks for a minute, my mind racing.
"Well … Let me talk to her mother," I said, using my best authoritative voice to calm my nerves. I quickly filled my husband in and we stood together, waiting. H's mother came on the line. The tone of her voice was calm, trust-worthy, mom-friendly: "Hello! Your son is welcome to stay in our basement; it's no trouble at all, really. Please don't worry; I'm sure you don't want him on the train tonight. He can come home the morning." Well, she certainly sounded sane. I would have offered to do the same thing for her child. I took a deep breath, my husband and I exchanged a look, and I spoke: "Yes, thank you. If it's no trouble, that would be great." Then I exhaled.
Although it felt really odd, it was what made the most sense. So we trusted, and we leaped. We trusted our son. He was a good kid who had always had nice friends, and his judgment thus far hadn't disappointed, too much. We trusted ourselves. After a little over four decades on this planet, you learn something about people, and even that brief conversation on the phone with H's mom, I felt her kindness and "safety" without needing to see her. Heads may shake, and eyes may roll at my decision, but ultimately, these are very personal choices. You can only hope that in the times when big questions arise, you have enough faith to trust in your parenting and that you have taught your child well enough so that they may make wise decisions. Luckily both parents and kids get to test these moments out, and eventually, everyone gets better at it. Nothing is ever fool-proof or guaranteed, but progress happens.
Of course the whole thing could have been an entire mess, but it wasn't. That young lady later became my son's high school sweetheart, and they have been together for three years. The mother turned out to be as lovely as she seemed on the phone and she adores my son. Sometimes seemingly odd scenarios can turn out to be just the right thing, and you take that terrifying leap of faith. Sometimes you land splat on the bottom of the canyon, like Wile E. Coyote, but usually, you don't, and that my friends, is parenting.