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Would I, could I, parent again?
That’s what I asked myself after learning that one of my friends decided to accept custody of her three nieces upon learning of her sister’s unexpected death.
I was, and am, in awe of her because honestly I question if I would have done the same as hastily as she did, without even thinking of how parenting another set of children would impact my life.
And if that bothers you it bothers me even more so. I am that person who is known as being too nice; who will hold doors open and wait for you if you are six feet away and I see you coming, who will go out of my way to give a homeless person money and a smile, or a stranger a compliment. I am also that person who would do anything for my family especially my nieces and nephews. Yet, when I thought about what my girlfriend, who is a single mother of one son already, was willing…no scratch that …knew she had to do, the ugly voice inside my nice side reared its shameful head.
What if something so tragic, so unexpected had happened to my loved one and I had to make that decision? Would I, could I, parent again? The prospect of doing so petrified me on further reflection. My nervous habit of biting my nails to the skin would probably resurface. I’d gain even more weight because I’m a stress eater. I would have made lists, lots of them – which I tend to do when trying to figure things out – of the pros and cons that would come with my new responsibility, hoping that the pros would far outweigh the cons.
I would have spent a few sleepless nights worrying about whether I could raise those kids without screwing them up, and the way my sister would have wanted me to. Would I faithfully take them to church every Sunday, no exceptions just like she did? Would I set clear cut rules and have enough backbone to enforce them just like she did? Would I give them wings like she did? Or would I revert back to my parenting style bordering on fear and over protectiveness, and pleading like our mother did with us?
My sister refused to mirror this type of parenting when it came to raising her own children unlike me. She’d want me to toughen up to raise her children. She’d want me to be a disciplinarian and set clear cut rules and have the backbone to enforce them. Could I? I really don’t know. I’m a softie. I don’t like getting the silent treatment or hearing doors slam or hearing the words “I hate you,” so I give in when I should instead hold my ground.
And what about my husband? Yes, he loves my family (he really does) but what would happen to our marriage, our newfound intimacy now that we are empty nesters, by parenting another set of children twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Children stretch marriages to the seams no matter how much you love and want them. Maybe that happens because of a mother like me who doted on our three children to the point of my husband’s exclusion but I learned before it was too late and our marriage fell to the wayside this is not how it should be.
We have three adult children, two sons and one daughter, the oldest is 37, our middle son is 35 and our youngest daughter is 31. Two are married and one, our daughter, is engaged. Each one chose to leave home in their twenties, over ten years ago. Each one also returned for a short period in their life, usually when or after they were dealing with a dilemma of some sort. Even then, it was difficult to have them back in our home. They were emancipated, making right and wrong decisions, but in my eyes they were still my babies. We often clashed as I tried to tighten the apron strings thinking that was what they needed the most. It wasn’t. Although it was painful I sometimes had to watch their lives spiral out of control until they got back on track, all the while biting my bottom lip to keep quiet and trying to embrace my husband’s “They have to learn from their mistakes” attitude. That’s not a mantra mothers can embrace during a parental panic attack.
Another question I reflected upon was would I give up my alone time so easily? I like having the house to myself all day until my husband comes home. I like being able to pick up a novel to read until I doze off, or write in long intervals without interruption. I like not having to plan dinners for children. I love not having to stand outside in frigid temperatures to wait for a late school bus, or not having to solve math problems.
I like not having to take trips to the emergency room for the croup or stitches from run-ins with the coffee table’s corners or falls. I like not having to break up squabbles that escalate when I am in the middle of a bubble bath. I remember those days, and I don’t miss those parts of them.
Still, I know that I would do all this and more for any of my nieces and nephews, if I had to. The fact that I initially questioned my decision probably puts me higher on the litmus scale of flawed human beings. But maybe the lesson for me, for all of us, is that we usually make the right decision… just in our own time.
But what would you do? If you’ve got grown children would you, could you parent again? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
Jeanine DeHoney is married, the mother of three and grandmother of three. She’s a former Family Services coordinator at a preschool center and now a fulltime freelance writer. Her articles and essays have been published in numerous magazines including Essence, Upscale, Mommy Too, Skipping Stones, Empowerment 4Women, Quality Woman’s Fiction, Mused-Bella Online, Mothering.com. Wowed by Him, Breathe Again Magazine, Listen Up, Literary Mama, Beautiful Black, and on the children’s site Smories. She’s also an essayist in “Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul,” the anthology “Living Lessons”, and upcoming in an anthology about shoe lovers. Jeanine has contributed to the blogs Divine Caroline, Moms of Hue, My Brown Baby and Babygirlz Magazine and EsteemYourself Magazine.