When all else fails, just pretend

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When I think of my usefulness as a parent holding sway over my children’s opinion of themselves in the pre-pubescent and pubescent years, I think often of a scene from the John Hughes classic “Sixteen Candles.”

Molly Ringwald’s character is distraught over a boy and her fear of not being popular as her father sits with her in the dark.

“I don’t think you’re a dork…” he says. “I don’t think your mother thinks you’re a dork…”

The look on young Molly’s face says it all: who cares what my parents think? As social currency, what one’s parents think seems to count not at all.

As a kid, of course, that was funny.

But when it actually happens as a parent? Holy S---!

Worse, increasingly, what I say won’t matter? I can no longer kiss the boo boo and make it all better. What, then, am I supposed to do?

This is my plan: just pretend.

I’m going to just pretend that my growing boys are still my little babies and I’m going to kiss and hug them as if they are.

I’m going to just pretend that it is not embarrassing for them when I yell “I adore you!” after them as they run off to school or off to play with friends.

I’m going to just pretend that they are glued to every word I say during one of my boring-but-necessary lectures.

I have begun to believe that pretending is what it takes because, after all, aren’t the kids pretending too? Aren’t we all? The kids are pretending that they know what it takes to be grown up, and, in our way, we as parents are pretending the same. After all, there is no rule book, no “right way” to perform the tasks required to make it through our days. So we bluster and bulldoze, we forge forward, as a good friend of mine used to say.

It is a hypocrisy, my new plan to pretend, because I have portrayed myself as a truth teller, a keeper of no secrets. But full transparency is a pipe dream. The best thing I can do is stay true to the important easy truths, the ones such as the fact that I love and adore my children. That way, when momentary murderous thoughts arise over their sometimes beastly behavior, when I find candy wrappers all over the den or my bedroom has been turned upside down by the WWE-style wrestling matches waged there on my formerly clean sheets, I can pretend more easily that I don’t want to send them off to military school. I can “pretend” that I am the luckiest woman alive to have such hellions as mine living with me under the rafters of our duplex apartment.

Because those really are true things, even if I don’t feel them in the moment. Just as my kids’ pre-pubescent “blah-blah-blah-you’re boring” and inevitable “I hate yous” are likewise in-the-moment half-truths that don’t quite capture the complicated emotions that intimacy dredges up.

Intimacy. Ugh. How hard it is. And how important. More than anything else, I’m afraid, kids need to know that there is someone, or a couple of someones, who love them regardless of their rambunctiousness, someone or someones who see past the blemishes and the bluster to the beautiful little beings residing inside.

Mr. Hughes was dead on. Sure, the dad looked like a clueless boob offering up his pathetic parental opinion of the cool factor of his slightly awkward teen daughter, but how lucky she was to have him there in the dark of night, even if she pretended she didn’t care. Of course she cared. Like all kids care, forever, about what their parents think of them.

And so we forge forward, pretending through puberty that the adult-like people in our house are still the little babies we bore with such hope and excitement for what they could be. Because they can be whatever they want to be, with our love.

And so concludes this episode of Mom’s Boring Lecture Series. Until next time. Keep pretending.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on
Posted 12:00 am, June 20, 2013
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