Uvalde shattered myth of parents controlling kids’ lives


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As funerals for the Uvalde school shooting victims continue, we are reminded that the loss of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare.

Parents live every day, whether they realize it or not, with that possibility. This manifests itself in myriad of ways — helicopter parenting, hovering, cosseting — but there’s a more accurate word for it, if harsh: control.

The Uvalde shooting revealed many issue: incompetence, gun issues, mental health problems, law enforcement quality control. It also shattered the myth that parents are in control of their children’s lives.

Before you become a parent, you underestimate this almost primal instinct, and you overestimate the ease of raising a tiny person to become a functioning member of society. Dinner conversations among childless friends are filled with arrogant claims: “I’ll never make my toddler boxed macaroni and cheese.” “My daughter will never sass me.” “My son will never play violent video games.”

These empty wishes fold over time with the demands of work, relationships, housework and, of course, rearing children. Annie’s takes the place of homemade. She sasses you, but you roll your eyes and confiscate her phone. He plays Fortnite but only for an hour, you justify.

At first, you’ll beat yourself up for this, but then, you’ll applaud your ability to juggle it all and compromise. You’ve lost a little control already.

Until around age 10, your sole job is to keep your child physically safe, jump start his education, and teach him basic manners and character. It’s demanding and exhausting. A 2-year-old will literally walk into the street. A 4-year-old will get in the car with someone offering them a lollipop.

To many parents who grew up hearing about the travesty of Jacob Wetterling, the 11- year old who was abducted walking home from a convenience store 1989 and killed and whose case remained unresolved for almost 27 years, your 10-year-old’s wish to walk to the gas station for a Slurpee is an invitation for abduction, human trafficking — even death.

These instances are rare of course, as statistically rare as being caught in a school shooting. But there’s something about knowing your child could die in that manner, knowing you may not be protecting your baby from such horrifying trauma, that the worst case scenario blips across your mind on a fairly regular basis.

Uvalde magnifies these fears: Your worst nightmare can come true. Now you need to figure out what, if anything, you will do differently. If you can’t keep your child safe at school, what can you do?

The Uvalde parents’ lives will forever be divided, before May 24, 2022, and after. For other parents, the immediacy of the news of the trauma can make parents tighten their grip more, even if it might breed discontent, anger, cynicism, and an even greater loss of control. Eventually, kids grow up.

After a decade of hands-on parenting, children start to ask questions, cultivate real friendships and show an interest in romance, all the while juggling school, sports or other extracurriculars. They have no idea how hard you’ve worked to keep them safe, and now they just want to drive in a moving vehicle across town, statistically one of the top three causes of death among teenagers.

It’s all nauseating, really, but most parents won’t discuss this because the activity itself is so commonplace. The primal nature of your fear cannot be put into words other than: “Dear God, help.”

Parents have to learn that their children were not blank slates, robots to be maneuvered. Children come into the world full of DNA, personality and instincts that guide them. Parents can shape their children, but control their lives?

It was a myth all along.

But parents can express influence. They can engage with their children as much as possible. Parents must know their children’s friends and their parents, their teachers and their daily routines in school and summer.

But it’s no longer enough to know about your child’s real life, you must know about their online life, too. A Reddit thread can lead to discussions about gender. Hours of violent video games can seem to numb a teen to real-world violence. The mask of social media disguises the harshness of real life. It can camoflouge loneliness, leading to depression that can mean self-harm and suicidal ideation.

For parents, navigating all these potential pathways of destruction is as exhausting as policing early childhood, if not more so. A glance at the last week’s worth of news shows, in terrifying detail, how you can do everything right and lose your child. You can do everything wrong and see your child choose to make every parent’s worst nightmare a reality.

The truth is parents have little control over their children’s lives. This is terrifying, but it can also be freeing. As parents, we should let it fuel our ability to influence what we can and let go of the rest.

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Nicole Russell is a writer and mother of four who has covered law, politics and cultural issues for The Washington Examiner, The Daily Signal, The Atlantic and The New York Post. She was voted “most argumentative” in high school and is proud to have discovered that being an opinion writer in Texas was way cheaper and more exciting than getting a law degree anywhere else.

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