By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
Motherhood is an emotional minefield sometimes.
I can be doing the most ordinary task and suddenly, I find myself in a puddle of my own tears, wondering where the years have gone. And I find myself fighting these opposing life circumstances daily because although I still have a 4-year-old at home, I also have a 15-year-old who’s growing rapidly before my very eyes.
The tears fell without much warning as I pulled up to his school a couple of weeks ago, delivering him to take his first Regents exam.
Now, when I was his age, I wasn’t fond of exams or studying of any sort. And the more my parents told me to study, the less I studied. A lesson in parenting right there: kids will usually do the opposite of what you ask of them.
Because of this, I basically lived in my math tutor’s house every year from around March to June, and I’m pretty sure my parents could’ve bought a second home with the money they spent on having her trying to drill the material into my head. P.S. It didn’t work.
The subject(s) didn’t interest me much, and here’s a shocker—I did absolutely nothing with the algebra, geometry, and calculus I was forced to study back then. In fact, I’m pretty sure I forgot the math the minute I left the school after taking the exams.
I decided to take a different approach when it came to my kids’ academics: it’s a method I call “the hands-off parenting approach.”
I’ve applied it to child rearing as a whole, including their studies, social lives, and relationships with their siblings, unless there’s a dangerous smackdown with a brother that could end at a hospital.
We try to avoid that.
So, what is my method all about? It’s basically the opposite of being a helicopter parent, where you allow your kids to decide how they want to study, make them responsible for doing their work, and stand by (but not too closely) for help (or money for tutors) if and when they need it.
It’s like the trendy concept of intuitive eating, but parenting style. Let’s call it intuitive parenting. The idea is that oftentimes, with lots of life scenarios, your kids know how they feel and what they want better than you do. They can even articulate that better than you can. If they don’t right away, it’s good to give them the space to make mistakes or figure it out imperfectly by themselves.
So, take a moment and listen to them and really hear what they’re saying. I know, it’s groundbreaking stuff.
Anyway, back to my emotional breakdown.
I’m driving my son to his first Regents exam and attempt to make small talk. I say, “Hey, which exam is today? Math or biology?”
To which he responds, “Biology. I’m really confident I know the material.”
So, you all now understand how little I actually know about my son’s test schedule and how I hired a tutor for him when he told me it was needed, but that’s it. It’s allowing him to understand what he knows and what he doesn’t, and also when he might need the help necessary to succeed.
As he leaves my car, I take a moment to really look at this man-child who’s grown taller than me this past year. He become an actual person while I was busy with other things. Here he was, casually walking into his high school to complete a rite of passage that many New York students have to upon the completion of ninth grade.
Cue the waterworks. Sure, I felt like a loser while I sat there in a spot some other parent could’ve used while I cried.
I mean, I call myself “the unpaid Uber driver” like many other parents who basically exist behind the wheel of their car to take their multiple kids to various destinations daily. So what was it about this particular stop that caused that reaction? Was it that realization that life is going by quicker than I want it to? Was it the survivor’s guilt I feel whenever my eyes really open up to our reality and I see how much bigger my kids are getting and that their father isn’t around to soak in all the nachas that every parent has a right to feel?
When you’ve been through loss and grief, it’s often hard to distinguish “regular emotionality” from the trauma triggers. And it often doesn’t matter, because feelings will continue to well up, and I will continue to be the mother of children who lost their father. But in this case, I was more tuned in to the motherhood moment than the sadness, at least consciously.
But part of that included trying to put myself in my son’s shoes and understanding the strength a kid has to have in order to accomplish all that he has under atypical circumstances.
I stand in awe of Dovid, noting how he’s maintained good grades, a social life, becoming a man and the oldest of his siblings without having his father there to show him how things are done. He’s learned a new language of happy coexistence with a stepfather and understands that although this is not what he would’ve chosen, he’s going to work on what he’s been given and build a relationship with someone who’s stepped into that father role and embrace a different young adulthood than any of his friends.
Maybe it was a combination of all of the above, but it did a number on me as I drove away to my next errand.
A few weeks have passed. The Regents exams have passed, the finals and tests are over, and the kids finally have a chance to enjoy just being kids without the obligations that come with being a student.
I know that along with many others, things don’t always look ideal in life. Even if I were a helicopter parent, I couldn’t have protected them from the most devastating blow of their lives. I learned the hard way that kids need to walk their own paths. I’m not here to bubble wrap or smooth the way for them; I’m here to teach, support, arm them, feed them, and prepare them for the challenges that are inevitably part of life, sooner or later. Because I know that if it’s not one thing, it’s something else.
I’m proud of us. We’ve taken what we’ve been given, and miss and sometimes still mourn the things we’ve lost. But we still keep parenting (hands on or off or up in the air).
Keep becoming the people we’re all meant to be as we walk each other through.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.