Parenting is hard Part 2: My daughter is growing up too fast and I don’t know what to do
OPINION: My daughter recently had an experience that made her feel unsafe. Now, I'm balancing protecting her and releasing her, and I don't know if I am doing this parenting thing right.
A few days ago, my 13-year-old daughter was walking alone down the street in our neighborhood when some guy who was driving by pulled over to tell that she has “nice hair.” As I said, she’s 13. She warily said, “Thanks.” He asked, “What’s your name?” She knew that she shouldn’t tell him but, even still, she did. At that point she was feeling a lot of anxiety, so she just walked away and he drove off in the other direction. That’s when the emotional fallout began.
A mother we know ran into my daughter a minute or two later and she said my daughter was shaking. My daughter called my wife and told her what happened. My wife was triggered, and she called me. The story was brief — nothing much happened compared with what so many other families have been through — but we all had very strong emotional reactions. I said I would love to talk to the guy — totally just talk. I wanted to see what he was after; see what his problem was; see if he realized that she was just 13 and see, like, how many punches it would take to knock him out.
I’m totally nonviolent, except when it comes to people messing with my kids or my wife. But I knew this guy would not be the last rando dude on the street who would say something to my little girl and that’s why this moment jolted me into realizing that our family has reached a new chapter in the story of raising our daughter. It’s the chapter where she gets unwanted attention.
What can a parent do about that?
There’re two competing issues for me as a parent. First, it’s extremely important that my girl feel comfortable walking around her neighborhood and her city. I want her to think that she can roam around New York and take advantage of all the wonderful things the city has to offer. I want her to feel a sense of independence and a sense of confidence that she can go anywhere and do anything. She already takes the subway by herself sometimes. She should feel like she’s able to walk around her neighborhood during daylight hours.
But, as a girl moving through the city — sometimes people will say or do inappropriate things. That brings me to my second issue. It’s my job to protect her and I want her to know that I’m here to protect her. And those parental desires are potentially in conflict. How do I protect her and engender a sense of independence? If I am not cautious enough and something happens, she could get hurt. And even if she’s not injured, she could grow afraid to be independent.
Of course, we have guidelines about when she should be home (well before dark) and we know where she is all the time. But that’s not enough to ward off some random event happening as she’s walking around. Am I better off walking with her as much as I can to make sure she’s safe or letting her roam by herself so she sees that she can do that? I’m sure each parent will answer that question differently. Each child has to be parented a little differently in recognition of who they are, where they are in the world and what they need. But what is the best parenting choice for us? Right now, I don’t know.
Parenting is about having new challenges thrown at you all the time and not quite knowing what to do. And the nature of the challenges keeps changing as kids get older. It’s OK for parents to not have all the answers because it’s impossible to know what to do in every situation. Each day the kids, or the universe, throw a new curveball at parents. And the right answer is different for each child. Parenting is the job that changes constantly and seems impossible to get right.
The conversation with my daughter about what to do and how to handle herself on the streets is an ongoing talk that will morph as she gets older and taller. I hope we get this one right, but I won’t be sure we did until years later. Quite often parenting feels like a series of failures. It’s the best — and most important — job we’ll ever have, but it’s also the most pressure-packed job ever. We’re only trying to make sure these little people we brought into the world grow up to become healthy adults. And we adults know how few of us are actually healthy.
Touré is a host and creative director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books, including the Prince biography “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Look out for his upcoming podcast “Being Black In the 80s.”
TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!