Apparently, the cool thing to do if you’re a progressive person in Iowa is to adopt a Guatemalan kid. At least, that’s the explanation a friend gave to me recently when she was visiting. In truth, I don’t think she wanted to share with the world that a woman in her 30’s had an 18 year old child, but another friend of ours blurted it out and she felt obligated to explain.
Knowing her, she adopted the kid out of compassion and her unquestionable drive to help others. If every progressive person in Iowa was adopting children who needed homes, every progressive American I know would move to Iowa.
As we discussed her daughter, my friend, let’s call her Jen, expressed to me that she is learning now what I’ve always suspected about parenthood: No matter the situation, as soon as you commit to caring for someone, even if they’re old enough to take care of them self, you are committing to being emotionally invested. In other words, after you become a parent, you will never stop being a parent.
That sounds basic, but as an outside observer, I’ve often wondered if people understand. After we hit around 10 years old, depending on our maturity, we need our parents for very little. But, that’s not how most modern families work.
During my childhood in Bermuda, having a part-time job packing groceries wasn’t rare. I knew multiple people, if they were not in clubs, or sports, they worked during their free time. Only one of my friends under 16, who packed groceries, found himself paying household bills. By the time he was 14, he was paying pretty much all the bills in his house, not including rent. It’s a small miracle that he didn’t end up dropping out of school.
The reason for his hardships? Despite always having stable work, his father spent his money elsewhere. I remember talking to one of his fathers’ ex-wives when I was 16, or 17. She explained that no one understood where he spent his money. No one got a penny from him. Not even the lone child who lived with him. After living with her for a bit, he decided to move to the US to be with his mom.
Most of us recognize my friend’s father’s behavior as bad parenting. Parents who have the means to provide for a child that age are expected to provide, whether the child works part time, or not.
For most people, the word parent has weight to it. It may carry baggage, or be seen as a calling. Some of us are wise enough to realize that we’re not up for such a huge role. Almost every older woman I’ve dated has told me that I should date someone younger, have kids, that I would be a good parent. But in my mind, even with all the wonderful things my parents did for me, I still carry with me their mistakes. I definitely fear my mistakes damaging a kid — even in a small way. Those fears express how powerful the word parent is to me and the flaws I have that I believe prevent me from becoming a parent.
I have a dear friend who has to make sure someone is with her son 24/7. He has anxieties being left alone. When I first learned this, I was selfish. I thought about all the nights I spent alone when I was that age. How I wasn’t able to spend more time with my friend because of the time she dedicated to her son instead of having fun with me. And then I asked myself, “What type of person would I be now if my parents invested the same amount of time in me, at his age, as she is investing in her son?”
Would I have the anxieties that I have now? Would I be a different person? It’s a small thing — it’s not money, just time, but I suspect I would be a slightly better person if my parents didn’t leave me alone at that age. In Bermuda, it’s a big deal to be “big” enough to be alone. It’s seen as a sign of growth and maturity. But spending time with a kid doesn’t make them weaker — they’ll eventually mature and want independence.
What she’s doing now is building his confidence, and helping him fight his fears. When I think of such a small thing as investing time having such a big potential impact on her son’s life, I’m humbled. It never occurred to me why she was setting her priorities in such a way, until our relationship forced me to analyze her parenting skills, versus how I was brought up.
As an outsider, the minutia, simple, small acts, and understanding their impact on your child years into the future is what makes a great parent. When you are emotionally invested in someone for life, what are a few hours hanging out with them, anyway? The person the child becomes is far more valuable than your friends being bummed that you can’t go out.
It’s the same with adopting a teenager from Guatemala. By putting a roof over their head, you’re invested in their well-being. Suddenly you’ve gone from worrying about your dating life to worrying about if your daughter’s boyfriend is good enough for them. What will they do after they graduate high school? Are they safe?
Hopefully, you have friends who try to understand this. Hopefully, your friendships are not fleeting relationships with insensitive people.
Unlike such relationships, parenthood is a lifetime commitment. You never stop being someone’s mother, father, or guardian. At least, that’s how I see it from the outside looking in.