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One Thing A Mother Can’t Do Is Protect Her Son From A Broken Heart

May 1, 2020

I could tell my sister was irritated. It had been a full day of activity at the family cottage and all the siblings had put their respective young ones to bed. It was time for the adults to gather around the bonfire and get caught up. My two-year old son was still suction-cupped to my leg. “Doesn’t he ever let go of you?” my sister asked, “he’s going to have to learn to be on his own eventually!”

She was right, of course, but if truth-be-told, I secretly loved it. I relished the feeling of his chubby little hand in mine and how his gaze followed me when I left his side. I look back at the connection I felt with my second born at this age and it makes my heart squeeze. It was a time I truly felt needed.

That said, I’ve always tried to embrace this important parenting mantra: raise emotionally healthy and independent human beings. As much as I revelled in the feeling of being needed, I knew my job was to teach my two sons and youngest daughter to problem solve and self-soothe. This constantly challenged my urge to rush in and fix whenever the three of them were stuck or worse — when they struggled emotionally.


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I picked small things. I encouraged them to order in restaurants and pay for their own toy at the cash. I eventually had them give direction when getting a haircut and run their own dentist appointments. We’d role play conflicts they were having with friends and I’d push them to take risks with their communication. If a prickly problem presented itself, I’d reluctantly stay quiet and wonder aloud what strategies might work. To be clear, all three were not willing participants. One son particularly loathed articulating his needs to the hairdresser. He told me a thick mane down to his knees was preferable to another visit to Supercuts, but he eventually got the hang of things.

"Seeing my sons in love with their respective partners has hit my parenting soul in ways I could never have predicted."

My suction-cupped son, on the other hand, grew to love this kind of freedom. The timid two-year-old was long gone and as a middle child, he seemed born to stretch his wings. Emotionally, he was the one who often said to me, “I got this mom. No need for any help.” As high school started to wind down, I could see my sons were ready to branch out. I had some anxiety, like most parents when kids leave for university, but my worry knot was in check as they embarked on their big adventures.

Though two years apart, the boys ended up at the same school and embraced university life with gusto. They figured out how to feed themselves on the cheap and adapted to the workload that came with their demanding programs. I was just beginning to relax when it happened. Nothing could have quite prepared me for this turn of events. Without me seeing it coming — cupid showed up. Almost at the same time, both boys announced they had serious girlfriends. Seeing my sons in love with their respective partners has hit my parenting soul in ways I could never have predicted.

As I watched them open their hearts, it filled me with fear and trepidation. These aren’t teenage romances. I can see they’re all in. After all the work teaching them independence and life skills, what had me in such a tizzy? It hit me. I was worried about their tender hearts. Nurturing independence is one thing, but foreshadowing heartbreak is an entirely different matter.


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During COVID-19, one son has chosen to stay in his university town to be closer to his girlfriend. They’ve been leaning on each other through this difficult time. My other son came home with his partner when the restrictions were first put in place. It’s been an eye-opening experience having a ringside seat to my firstborn navigating his relationship under isolation. Like all of us, they’re coping the best they can.

My worry knot remains. I’ve resisted wrapping them in cotton batten since they were small yet if I could, I’d wrap their hearts with a protective barrier to prevent damage. I know it’s silly. It’s not the way life works. It comes down to a little bit of faith. They’ll survive no matter what comes their way. It’s part of growing up.

Funny thing — once the fear starts to dissipate, I can feel something else creeping in — admiration. While many of us try to figure out how to manage during this pandemic, my two boys have reminded me what bravery and compassion looks like and the gift of opening up the tender heart.

Article Author Karen Horsman
Karen Horsman

Karen is the former national parenting columnist for CBC. She is the mother of three and working in the field of corporate communications.

Sharing stories and learning from others is at the centre of Karen's world. When she isn't writing or connecting with fellow adventurers, you can find her walking a local forest with her amazing puppy.

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