Parental Helplessness

Eve wipes the sweat that is pearling on Sarah’s forehead. Her six-year-old daughter is mumbling in her sleep and her eyes jerk left and right under closed eyelids.

Eve checks Sarah’s temperature for the twentieth time, then the alarm. “Twelve minutes till the next paracetamol.” Eve lies down and hugs Sarah, hoping to lure the fever out of her daughter and into her body.

Three years later, at school, Sarah is on stage. She plays the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Eve moves back and forth on her chair and wipes her perspiring hands. She stares at her daughter on stage, hoping to establish a telepathic connection, and whispers the lines Sarah struggled to memorize.

Helplessness is the dark side of parenting. We can hold our children’s hands, but they need to learn to walk. We can send them to school, but we cannot learn for them. We can take them to the doctor, but they need to fight the diseases. We can teach them the principles of happy living, but they will have to make their own decisions. We can prune their emotional tree so it grows strong and straight, but they will have to walk tall through their tests and trials.

We can’t succeed for them.

We can’t say No! for them.

We can’t love for them.


Tom hugs James with fatherly might. “Good luck in college.”

“Thanks, dad.”

“Remember, bullies are cowards.”

“I know, dad.”

“Take this.” Tom pushes a pack of condoms into his son’s hand.

James blushes and looks around. Thanks God, nobody noticed. He hides the condoms in his pocket. “Thanks, dad.”


As our children grow, our helplessness grows too. Small kids – small worries, big kids – big worries.

They may even repeat our mistakes, which seems to be such a waste of time and energy.

And when worse comes to worst and we lose our child to drugs, a crime, a cult, or a gang, all that’s left is picking up the pieces. Sometimes the body.

In the game of parenthood, you cannot win. All parents can do is love their children, support them, pick them up when they fall. But there’s no such thing as winning this game. – Robert McKee

Parenting is a balancing act between coaching and giving our kids space to grow in their own time. That makes parenting an art. Accepting our parental helplessness goes a long way toward mastering that art.

Please keep this parental helplessness in your mind for a moment, the love for your child, the never-ending worries, the anger our helplessness sometimes gives rise to, the violent hoping, and the growing realization that parental helplessness is a cross we have to endure.

Now multiply this feeling by a zillion, and you have a hunch of how our Divine Parents feel.



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