When my children were toddlers, they liked to wriggle away from me to hide in the center of a department store clothes rack. They delighted in the game of hide-and-seek, and while I frantically searched for them, they quietly enjoyed a little taste of freedom surrounded by last winter’s coats. The panic, frustration and fear-fueled anger I felt gave way to enormous relief when I peeked into that last rack of clothing to find my giggling child.
I continued to have those same feelings of despair and helplessness, anger and relief when my now grown children began to stretch the boundaries of their freedoms. There was that dinnertime knock at the door, opened to a deputy sheriff. Then there was the discovery of an empty bed, on two separate occasions with a different teenager missing each time, for the Sunday morning church wake-up call. I cannot count the number of times a child went home with a friend after school and did not remember to check-in until walking through the door well after dinner. While there were many other infractions with four children, these have been among the most notable.
I was once embarrassed by their action because I believed others in my small community would pass judgment on my parenting skills. Then I realized I had done my best to help to raise four very independent-minded people. Regardless of what I may say to them, or the example I try to set by the way I live my life, my children seem to learn better through their experiences. Allowing each of them to learn life’s hard lessons on their own is the best thing I can do for them as their dad, even though it is much harder for me than may appear.
Watching my children learn how to become adults, I still feel the panic, frustration, and fear-fueled anger when I discover they are lost. I also feel enormous relief when they choose to let me find them. Considering I want to give unconditional love and protection to my children, and my children seem to want unconditional love and comfort from me, it is so unfortunate we all allow the game of hide-and-seek to continue.
Still, we do.
And at this very moment, I would like nothing more than to pull back those winter coats and peek inside the rack to find my lost, but giggling child.