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Do You See Me? Parenting and the Paradox of Relevance

ChildRunningA distant but rapidly approaching thunderstorm awakens me from a deep sleep.  I toss and turn and lie there, but find every attempt to return to sleep a futile effort, so I at last decide to take the pregnancy test that has been on my mind all afternoon.

I wait, staring at the little window, willing it to develop like a shaken Polaroid photo.

A line appears, faint at first, then darker. I am a mother! We are parents!! It’s all too surreal.  In an instant, the realization that our lives are forever changed. We have a child!  “Oh God, help me be all this little one needs,” I pray.

From the first moments of your life, yes, I saw you.

“Your baby is small for her gestational age!” The doctor’s words are alarming. Fear, terror, sadness grip and consume us. There is an ultrasound, the suspenseful silence as the doctor peers at murky images on a small screen. The doctor teases us, breaking our anxiety with unexpected compliments.

“Your daughter is just fine,” he exclaims, “and I must say she has quite the lovely legs and lips!”  We cry in relief.  Again, we saw you, our daughter.

Birth comes soon, and life flourishes. Soon, it is as if you are a collection of milestones, moving past at impossible speed:

“Mom, watch me ride my bike!”

I am watching.

“Mom, listen to me play one more time before the recital!”

I am listening.

“Mom, can my friends come over and hang out with us Friday night?”

I am here for you.

“I want to be homeschooled again, Dad! Please? I will work hard!”

I will support you.

“Hey, Mom and Dad. Can you help me fill out this college application stuff?”

I am beginning to let you go.


Someone once told me that there is one quest in childhood.  That quest comes from a yearning deep inside; one to have satiated the eternal question:

“Do you see me?”

And so our children spend their boundless energy vying for our affections and attention, all in the hopes of not being overlooked.  But as our children are grow older, the yearning to be noticed becomes contagious, spreads from the children to us, their parents.  We run after our them, hoping they will have time for us, speak to us, involve us in their lives.

Some pondering on this question while doing my mundane chores led me to a realization. The question, “Do you see me?” is really about relevance.  It is not a question of being seen, but a question of “Do I matter to you?” As our first child heads to college this fall, the tables have turned.  I am discovering that the deep fears are now ours as parents; hoping and praying that our teenagers will not walk away and never find room in their lives for us.  Our lives changed drastically in that one instant upon discovering that we were pregnant; now they change again as the teens exit our lives to find their own way in the world.

As parents we watch them go, hoping beyond hope that somehow, some way, they will not forget that we lived, breathed, and moved every second of every minute for their sake.  It is now our question of relevance.  Do we still matter to them, those little ones who were once so dependent on us, and who now sometimes seem to forget that we are there? It is the risk anyone takes by loving another.  We open ourselves up to love, and in so doing, are vulnerable to being forgotten; replaced.

This empty feeling we have as our daughter leaves for college is not present because she is leaving, though we will miss her. The deeper ache comes from wondering if she will make the time to come back.  I think of Jesus asking the same thing of Saint Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” In other words, “Am I relevant in your life, Peter? Do my sacrifices make any difference in your life? Do you see me?”

This fall, we see someone incredibly relevant to us leave for college.  Yes, it is a natural part of parenting, but it sure is hard.  And, yes, you are relevant! We do see you.

Just like our parents did, we will not stop watching you, listening to you, being there for you and letting you go again.


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Kathleen Harrison is a nurse practitioner and mother of seven. She and her husband Matt, a pro-life physician, taught NFP for ten years. They live in North Carolina with their children. Their oldest daughter just moved to Atchison, Kansas to attend Benedictine College.

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