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It's terrifying, sometimes, to love your child so much

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  July 18, 2012 03:25 PM

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The other day, my 21-year-old daughter asked me if she could borrow my car to drive her and her friends to Six Flags next weekend.

She asked as she was driving me (in my husband's car) to pick up said car after an oil change and tune-up. "I'm a good driver, you know that," said Michaela.

I asked how many were going. "Four of us," she said. 

"You know that the risk of an accident goes up the more teens there are in a car," I said, forgetting for a moment that she and her friends aren't teens anymore.

"You've been saying that since I was sixteen," she said. 

"Because it's true," I said. We were quiet.

What was really true, though, was that I was scared.

Whenever I see first-time parents with their newborns in my practice, they all have that same deer-in-the-headlights look. There is simply no way to prepare for how overwhelmed you get when you realize that this wonderful, incredible being is really here, is really yours--and not only are you totally responsible for them, but they could be so easily hurt or taken from you altogether. It's almost too much. 

It is too much. 

But we learn to live with it so that we can make it through the days, so that we can let them go to kindergarten and field trips and sleepovers and first dates and college, so we can function when they first take the car or when they get a high fever or climb a tree. Over time, we even start to feel wise and relaxed and like we've got this whole parenting thing down pat.

Until they ask to take the car to drive a bunch of friends to an amusement park two hours away.

If I don't lend it to her, the scared voice in my head said, maybe she won't go. And she'll be safer if she doesn't go. But that's nonsense, because they can just get another car--one Michaela isn't as comfortable driving as mine, one that isn't straight from a check-up by a mechanic like mine. She is an adult now, not a little girl whose plans I can veto.

But parenthood doesn't have to make sense, and it often doesn't. The truth is, it's plain old terrifying to love someone so much. It's true when they are born, and it's no less true when they are twenty-one--or, I'm told, when they are older. When you sign on for parenthood, that's part of the package forever.

I told her I had to think about it. I'll probably say yes, because I know it's a safe car and I know she is a good driver (I have no idea if her friends are). If she's going to go, it's probably the safest option.

And then I will hug her really tight.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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