Last week I had a molar tooth extracted (yes, ouch!) It was not done lightly, but after 10 years of crown, root treatments and ongoing jaw pain, my dentist felt it was finally time to “call it quits”. I have had wisdom teeth removed (maxillofacial surgeon, general anaesthetic – not pleasant, but unconscious at least,) but never in-the-chair – awake. After three local anaesthetics, half an hour of tugging and pulling, I thought the worst was over. Apparently not. A week later I was back in the chair, with agonising jaw pain that had convinced me that I had an infection at least. “No”, the dentist informed me – “you don’t have an infection, in fact this is the cleanest socket I have ever seen – it’s too clean – you have what is called a ‘dry socket’ – you have cleaned out all the food, all the blood that was meant to seal the socket – and the pain comes from the fact that the bone and nerves are raw and exposed”. It seems that in my zeal to “get it right”, I had done the worst thing possible – over-cleaned, over-sterilised, and now I was paying the price – of having to go through most of the procedure all over again, poking the wound until it bled enough to create the correct conditions for healing.
It seems to me like this is a parable for parenting. So often, in our fear for “what could go wrong”, we become over-zealous, over-protective – there’s even a word for it -“helicopter parenting.” Parents who hover on the side of every sports match; parents who rescue their children from every poor choice; parents who can’t entrust their children to anyone else – even grandparents and responsible babysitters; parents who push their children into career choices made from the “wisdom” of the world they grew up in.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that we should neglect to show interest in our children; I am not saying that we should leave them to fight battles they are clearly too young and immature to fight on their own; I am not saying we shouldn’t act responsibly to check up on where our kids are and who they are with; I am not saying we shouldn’t help guide and support them in the most important decisions they are likely to make. I am saying that parenting is a risk, it’s bloody and messy and doesn’t always work out the way you think it should. I am saying it is an art, not a science. I am saying that sometimes we mess up simply because we are trying too hard – and we should cut ourselves (and them – especially if they are teenagers) some slack – chill out, because most of the things we think are irreparable are, in fact, redeemable. Like my tooth socket. Just takes a little longer, sometimes, with some pain along the way – but, with patience and persistence, there’s a good end in sight.