The Parent Trap: worrying never ends

We all worry. It doesn’t matter if our young child is picked up by a van to go spend the morning at daycare, or our teenagers grab the SEPTA bus to be on time at North Catholic, George Washington, or one of the many high schools in Northeast Philadelphia. The worry only increases when they move their belongings to a college, get married and start a family of their own. The parent trap has a hold of you, and there is no way out.

“Parenting – It never ends… It NEVER ends,” says Jason Robards in the movie ‘Parenthood’. “It’s like your Aunt Edna’s ass. It goes on forever and it’s just as frightening.”

This isn’t what you signed up for when you were making the kid. Chances are, that was fun. And if you are lucky enough to be a couple or have a great support system, you look forward to the days of changing diapers and taking your young one to the zoo.

You get hooked early. It happened for me when my son lay squirming on a table at the hospital, under a heat lamp. He looked up at me and grabbed my finger. “Hi, I’m your daddy,” I said to him. He responded by screaming at an amazing decibel and pitch. I thought my eardrums were going to explode. Unfortunately, that was only the first time.

The screaming continued when we brought him to our little rowhome in Lawndale. He wouldn’t eat. I really couldn’t understand this. I just figured that every child and mother naturally got the idea of breastfeeding. I mean, it has been going on for centuries.

It turns out that there is a feeding process that new mommies and babies are taught in the hospital. I won’t get into it here, but I remember that it was the first bit of parenting information I learned that I never thought I would have to know.

The lessons didn’t work out, because the kid just wouldn’t cooperate and eat. We had nurses out to the house and even, in a fit of desperation, called an organization called the La Leche League. In its literature, the League defines itself as a group that “strives to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”

But on the phone with my crying wife, the representative sounded more like a breastfeeding storm trooper. She kept telling us to try, try, try, and not to give in to the bottle. “If you do that, you lose,” she said.

My wife hates to lose. I, on the other hand, was used to the taste of defeat. I called our new pediatrician.

“You need to get away for a bit,” he told me. “Get in your car, go to the store, and buy bottles and formula. Life is too short to get worked up over this.”

It was the best advice I ever got from a doctor.

But with one problem solved, the worrying continues to this day, 16 years later. Now, he talks about getting a job. He looks at girls the way I used to, and I know that look can only come to no good. I teach him how to act correctly, but I cannot watch him all the time. He is still going to do what he wants, and I can only hope that the majority of my words stick into his thick teenaged skull.

Millions of trees have died in the pursuit of advising people on how to be a good parent. But when it comes right down to it, we are probably not as good or bad as we think. The best and worst parents can always point to a time when they were wonderful with their children, yet remember every misstep along the way.

For every perfect moment with my children I can recall, I vividly remember times when I would have liked to rewind my emotions or responses, or even maybe the decision to become at parent at all.  That’s the part that really gets to you. Just when you think that you’ve figured it out, just when you know in your heart that you’ve got it licked, something happens to remind you that parenting, like childhood, is a constant learning experience.

And as the man in the movie said, it never ends. I have two teenagers, and my parents still worry about me. My wife’s parents are dead for more than a decade, and their words and actions still influence her life. In turn, they influence my children’s lives as well – all without ever having met them.

When you see your kids grow strong and do well, it vindicates the work and the worry. That’s what I am hoping that will come through in these little slice of life stories that I will be presenting. Every family is different. We all have a different set of challenges. But we are all in this together, through the funny and the furious.

I’d like to hear your stories, too. Email me at, and tell me about your trip through the parent trap.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Pat McNally that will appear on every Tuesday.

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