How clever do you have to be to raise a child?

WRITTEN BY: Johanne Home

How clever do you have to be to raise a child?” This week’s New York Magazine cover appeals to my generation’s self-proclaimed desire to do what is best for our children[1]. Manhattan parents do indeed spend vast amounts of time ensuring their toddlers get into endless lists of age-appropriate mommy-and-me classes, and later in the “right” preschool or kindergarten. I have often wondered whether the ruthless quest is about the child or the parent. In our highly narcissistic society, it feels that some type-A parents tend to see their offspring as an extension of themselves, rather than independent, some day autonomous, free-willed individuals.

Yet we all know – even if we hate to admit it – that getting a child into the “right” school can never guarantee academic success, let alone a successful career. Then, is it about bragging rights, or seeking all possible insurance that nothing will go wrong, and that if – God forbid – our beloved child misses a step in his/her social and intellectual ascent, we parents can all look back and decline direct responsibility?

I have 6-year-old twins boys, and many things did go wrong in their short life span: they were born seven weeks early, and their first three years were spent catching up with growth charts and overcoming minor developmental delays. A week shy of his fifth birthday, my son Tristan was hit with the life-altering diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. His pancreas no longer produces insulin, and he relies on daily injections of the hormone for survival. How smart do we, his parents, need to be to survive the many demands of his condition? There are the systematic, round-the-clock checks on his blood sugar levels to avoid life-threatening hypoglycemia, and the ever-changing insulin requirements, affected by activity levels, food intake, growth and sickness. More importantly, how smart do we need to be to help him navigate life after such a massive curveball?

I have lived in Manhattan for twelve years, and done the mommy-and-me classes and independent school application dance too, but in October 2014, I fell off that wagon big time … I have now come to think this may have been a blessing. That Fall, my life came to a virtual standstill: I quit my job, which involved long stretches of international travel, and started to live and breathe T1D 24/7 – after all, I went to graduate school twice and completed two marathons, which probably qualifies me as a member of the New York type-A gang too (I am not necessarily proud of it, but that is another story). Life as I knew it shattered to pieces in a matter of weeks: a dedicated runner who loved to work hard and play hard, I fell apart as I learned to survive on 3-4 hour long stretches of uninterrupted sleep and to weigh every single carbohydrate my son was ingesting. In those challenging months, another important thing happened: I became present again. Being with my son constantly, learning to replicate the tasks his pancreas was no longer able to complete has been one of the hardest, most humbling things I have ever accomplished. In the process, my son became my teacher, helping me get in tune with his physical and emotional needs. In the years that preceded motherhood, I never anticipated this reversal in dynamics, or the fact that parenting would involve such intimate teamwork.

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In many ways, I now find that mothering has become simpler for me: I had to make choices, and ended up eliminating many of New Yorkers’ parenting priorities. My children no longer attend after-school activities every single day – after all, standing by the side of a soccer field with a continuous blood sugar monitor in hand, praying that I got the insulin dose right IS brutal work … Daily 15-minute sessions of independent reading have replaced the intense workbook and tutoring sessions (yes, most Manhattan preschoolers and kindergartners have those!). There are even days when I am too tired to get my sons into the shower, and my husband, who pulls 12+ hour workdays, has to take over. For several months after my son’s diagnosis, I battled with guilt over many things, and especially the feeling that I had “given up”… I am now coming to love this new form of paired-down, more mindful parenting and the heightened presence that my son’s condition requires of me. I don’t pretend that this life-changing event has made me smart enough to raise my children – it is after all a work-in-progress for all of us – but it has certainly taught me to listen to them both in a way I did not before. Our relationship has truly become a two-way street, where I am no longer calling ALL the shots. I pray to God that it will be good enough for them to become happy, well-adjusted and productive adults one day.

[1] Disclaimer: I haven’t read the article, and this is a mere reaction to the zeitgeist reflected in the headline.

Johanne Home

Born and educated in France, Johanne Home now lives in Manhattan with her husband and 6 year-old twin boys. For now, she has replaced her daily runs with the odd cigarette, but she hopes this will only be a temporary thing… She is both humbled and excited to learn to take it one day at a time.