Monday, May 31, 2010

Parenting Illusions

We parents like to believe - nay, we need to believe - that, by doing the "right" things, we can prevent tragedy from befalling our children.

Family dinner hour
? Check!

High-tech car seats? Got 'em!

Unconditional love
? No problem!

We even up the ante a bit by throwing in some extras: homeschooling, say, or an organic diet, or maybe a solid religious upbringing. Anything, actually, to increase the odds that we won't become one of those families visited by horrific misfortune. And, to further deny the crap shoot that is childrearing, we look for ways that those other parents - the unfortunate ones - may have messed up.

"What do you expect? The kids were home alone after school every day."


"That kid played too many video games/watched too much TV/texted her friends all night."


"They're not Catholic/Jewish/Evangelical (circle one), like us."

Oh, the list of how other parents have obviously screwed up goes on and on. You see, we need to reassure ourselves that we are in control, that we will not become the next poster family for Kids-Gone-Wrong. We need to protect our illusions of invincibility, even when doing so translates into a lack of compassion for our fellow parents, a refusal to acknowledge our common frailty in the face of the vicissitudes of this earthly life.

But our illusions of control are just that - illusions. True, they give us the courage needed to bear children and to send them out into a world where anything can happen. They give us hope that we can prevent the unthinkable. But these illusions also spare us from facing a discouraging truth: sometimes, despite our best efforts, we cannot save our own child from himself.


Henry Louis Granju was a beautiful child, a loved child. He was a drug addict, yes; but first, he was MamaPundit's cherished son - a little boy who lit up his parents' world with his smiles, later an older brother adored by his younger siblings. And now, he is dead. There will be no recovery from, no reconciliation for his struggles of the previous 4 years. There will be no happy ending. His is an unfinished story, leaving behind anguished regrets made more painful by the happy memories of a little boy who loved and was loved in return.

For 4 years MamaPundit was immersed in the maelstrom that living with a troubled teen produces - the constant fear for his safety, the self-doubt, the daunting task of finding help for a problem she never dreamed a child of hers would face. She is haunted by the belief that there was something she missed, some way she could have prevented her son's death. On top of that is shock: the shock that her Herculean efforts on her son's behalf have been rendered - cruelly, abruptly - irrelevant by her son's death. At long last the maelstrom has ceased; but it has been replaced by a desolate emptiness rather than by the return of the child she loved.

Please pray for her peace of mind; and pray for H's siblings, including the unborn child MamaPundit is carrying. And perhaps, in honor of her suffering, each and every one of us can try to be a little kinder to whomever we meet today - because we just don't know who else among us may have been similarly sucker-punched by the loss of that illusion of control.


  1. Your post is beautiful. Thank you for saying what I still can't formulate into anything but heartache and tears. An unimaginable tragedy that could happen to anyone, but all I can think about is bright, talented, beautiful Henry and his sweet mother's love that is now immeasurable pain. My heart is heavy and my hands are idle, for nothing that I do can ease her suffering.

  2. I knew the story, but did not realize he had died. Such a tragic ending.

    I watched my mother live this truism, "sometimes, despite our best efforts, we cannot save our own child from himself."

    We will never stop trying though.

  3. What you say in the beginning, about our control being an illusion, is dead-on. We've struggled with one of our kids, and it fascinates me (and pisses me off) how the kid's problems is a result of something we did/are doing. It's out of fear, this finger-pointing. All anyone can do is offer unconditional support and love (which is really hard to do when you're scared and trying to make yourself feel invincible.)

    When we were thick in the throes of feeling awful about ourselves and our abilities, someone told us that WE were the best thing for our child. That is the type of trust and confidence that parents with struggling children need.

    So amen to your sermon. And thanks.

  4. My own anxieties are silenced by this tragedy.

  5. Just to make clear - I'm not saying we shouldn't try to help our kids. What I was trying to say is that we shouldn't look for something to blame when things go horribly awry - instead we should unconditionally support the parents in their efforts to help their child, as Jennifer Jo points out in the comments above.

  6. Okay. I mostly walk around arrogantly thinking about how my kids won't turn out like "that," whatever that might be. Thank you for the reality check. I've never read or visited mama pundit before, but now I guess I will.

  7. We live in a culture of blame - it must be "somebody's" fault. Thank you for the poignant reminder that sometimes, despite the best efforts of the parents, tragedy still happens and is largely unexplainable. I think we (as a culture) often do more harm than good, not supporting parents trying to deal with impossible circumstances. "Where are the parents?" - sometimes (I'd venture "often") they're right there, desperately trying to help their child.

  8. AnonymousJune 01, 2010

    What a beautiful post, I cried but it was necessary! My thoughts are with their family and I pray I never have to go through the anguish she is.

  9. What a horrible tragedy. I'm going to be hugging my girls extra close after school this afternoon.

  10. It might be the main lesson of parenthood, how little control we really have, especially once we let them out into the bigger world. I try to constantly keep a few steps ahead, but I know, deep down, there's a fair whack of randomness involved. If you think about it too much, it will shake you to your core and leave you too fearful to actually parent.

  11. Yes. This is so spot on. Of course our parenting matters, but in the end, children are still individual human beings and make their own choices. We can't parent hoping to safeguard them from all possible realities tomorrow. We can only take it day by day.

    Thank you for this.

  12. What a timely post. Friends we recently reconnected with via Facebook lost their son to an overdose on May 15. He was only 19.

  13. How utterly awful. Thank you for saying the truth, that we want to believe we are doing all the right things and therefore our children will make all the right choices. I'm struggling with that myself right now, with my younger daughter. Our control is an illusion and so are our safeguards. I will be praying for this family.

  14. I hadn't heard that Henry had died. So sad. Having had fears for my youngest daughter perhaps going down the wild road (thankfully she didn't) I know that feeling of helplessness in the face of child's powerful will.

  15. So well said. I feel fortunate that right now I'm "only" worried about fevers, car accidents, and child molesters. I'm guessing it's easier to protect a child from those outside forces than from himself.