I always imagined that as a mother I would develop some kind of bad kid radar that would go off inside my head every time one of those kids came near my child, like a faint buzzing sound or the click of handcuffs.
While I never really did develop the bad kid radar - I guess you need to be bitten by a bad kid to develop it - I spent years encouraging my children to be friends with certain kids while discouraging friendships with others.
I was convinced that if I could surround my kids with these seemingly perfect children that they would be safe and perfect, too.
One weekend phone call, and everything I arrogantly thought I knew about parenthood and parenting was proven wrong.
A dear friend called me and in a tear-filled conversation confessed she caught her child doing something very, very wrong.
My friend's son, only three years older than my oldest child, is a good kid, a great kid, the kind of kid that you would meet and then tell someone else that you hoped your child would turn out to be exactly like him.
And my friend is a great mom. Her children are older than mine, and I've emulated her parenting style for as long as I've been a parent.
While her heart-breaking sobs poured from her soul into mine, an overwhelming fear filled my mother's heart. If it could happen to her child, how will I ever protect mine?
My kids are older now, and I am having a difficult time reconciling their continual need for independence and time with their peers with my need to snuggle with them on the couch like I did when they were toddlers. My oldest daughter started high school this fall, and my middle son started junior high school. As much as I prefer to live in denial and pretend that nothing bad will ever happen to my children because I've raised them with rules and boundaries, my friend's experience forced me to confront reality:
Good kids sometimes make bad decisions.
Good kids raised in beautiful homes with wonderful, supportive, loving parents screw up, too.
I can vividly remember my adolescence. Sure, I like to pretend that I was a perfect child, a perfect teen, but I wasn't. I screwed up. A lot.
My parents were great parents, strict parents and I attended an excellent, expensive private school, but if my parents told me not to hang out with a certain group of kids, those kids became my new best friends. And even though my parents warned me about the dangers of certain behaviors, I still experimented with many of them, sometimes even in my own home - just because I was a little shit.
As my own parents did for me, I have given my children the very best foundation I believe I am capable of giving them, but ultimately they will walk out my front door. Their successes, mistakes, stumbles and major screw-ups are theirs alone. And this terrifies me.
As much as I want to wrap my children in bubble-wrap and pretend that my parenting is a gigantic force-field surrounding them as they enter the world, the truth is that they will make their own decisions and have to live with the positive and negative consequences of those decisions.
My own children will make mistakes. They might even choose to do something which my husband and I have explicitly told them not to do. And at a certain point, there is really nothing I can do about it.
However, I can provide a safe place to come home to when they get hurt. I can provide my mother's arms to comfort, my mother's heart to forgive and my mother's intelligence to seek any help that my children may need. Raising children is not for the meek nor the naive. And I shall plead with the universe for strength and courage.
In the meantime, I will try to find more teaching moments during our day to use as specific examples of good and bad behaviors. I will spend more time alone with each child and find unique ways to connect with them as their interests change. And after they fall asleep, I will try not to sneak into their rooms like that creepy old mother in Robert Munsch's Love You Forever book, scoop their awkward, gangly bodies into my arms and sing to them.
It will be difficult, but I will limit myself to a quick forehead kiss.
Has your child ever really messed up? How did you handle it? How did it change your parenting style?