The line between engaged and overzealous can be surprisingly thin.

Childhood is bad enough. No matter how loving your parents, how comfortable your circumstances, how likely you were to be the only child on your block with a treehouse or a princess phone, painful moments still occurred. You were the last one picked in gym class. You failed your spelling test because you forgot to write the words on every other line. Your sixth-grade friends started standing in seventh-grade clusters without you.

Then came parenthood. Who knew that watching your own child suffer life’s slings and arrows was worse than feeling them yourself? Long before your preschooler notices, you see the other kids in the sandbox stealthily swiping every shovel, truck, bucket and digger and stockpiling them in a closely guarded corner.

In vain, you tell yourself these are just children being children. By the time your child asks if he can use one of the dump trucks, please, in your head you’re writing the angry letter you plan to send to Parks and Recreation as soon as you tell those oblivious mothers what you think of their parenting skills.

And that’s just the beginning. You still have 12 years of school to survive, and trust me, the line between “engaged parent” and “parent who is way too involved” is extremely thin. When I worked at a daily newspaper, one of my weekly jobs was to profile a local high school senior. The stories culminated in a banquet at which all the featured students were honored, and one or two were awarded scholarships.

Each spring, as parents became aware that the year was waning and their child hadn’t been chosen for a story, the telephone calls began. Sometimes they’d call the newspaper’s editor or publisher. Then graduation would come and go, and all the angst flowing my way would abruptly cease as parents turned their attention to Getting Ready for College.

As it turned out, I wasn’t immune to rampant emotion myself. Twice—once per graduating daughter—I caught myself stomping around and simmering over perceived slights and exclusions. Each time, the moment mortarboards were flung, my resentment evaporated like pregnancy hormones after the baby is born.

I thought I was done with all that indignation-by-proxy business. Then came grandchildren, and it all started again: Older children on the playground’s big toy who “just happened” to want to play with the steering wheel whenever my grandson toddled in that direction. The kids who looked right through my granddaughter when she asked if she could cook plastic fruit with them in the science center’s child-sized kitchen.

Not long ago, my 5-year-old grandson happily described the Halloween costume parade and party planned at his elementary school, to be followed by trick-or-treating in his neighborhood. He was thrilled with anticipation. As it turned out, anticipation was all he got. He awoke on Oct. 31 so sick that he wasn’t interested in any of it.

And I? I was heartbroken. Wrecked. Finished. Is there no end to this pain?

How we suffer. 

Margo Bartlett and her husband have two daughters, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren and two car seats. She also writes the Just Thinking column for ThisWeek Community News. You can reach her at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.