My fourth post on adolescence was a little abrupt and I didn’t want to end the series without any concrete strategies and a post coloured with a tinge of fear.
For the last few days, I have had to process recent events that tested my theories on letting go, trusting that they are all on their own path, and loving the world so that they may love it too.
Last Friday, I could not find solace in the news or in the worried face of my husband. I sought comfort in my Book of Hours. I poured through the pages looking for answers. I wanted to find words that would act as a magic little pill of reassurance and optimism. A cure for my despair and for something strong enough that would dislodge my heart from my throat.
I prayed for guidance and found the above poem amidst my search for quotes on surrender. I thought I understood the act of surrender. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about my intention to experiment with surrender. When it comes to my own self, I can surrender to the unknown with ease. I can watch with joyous anticipation at how events intersect unexpectedly and patient optimism when things seem to fall apart.
But if it has to do with my children, I am a mess and everything I know gets thrown out of the window.
I have come to learn that it is an entirely different story when it comes to my children, especially my older children who are spending more time out of my physical proximity, increasing their distance geographically and emotionally. My head understands that this process of growth and independence is normal. I even wrote in an earlier post how parenting itself is an act of surrender each and every day. I am learning that one of the most challenging things for me is to trust my parenting.
Can I surrender to doing and being enough of a mother? Can I release my worry about what I have and haven’t prepared them for? Can I surrender to the only thing I know that is certain – that my love for them is enough and it is what I can put my faith in? How do I keep loving them so fully and let them go at the same time?
At some point you are faced with the knowledge that this is what parenting is all about. Your children grow up and you will watch them suffer. You won’t be able to kiss the boo boo away. Your heart doesn’t change its capacity to protect and to care and to love just because they’ve grown up. No one spoke to me about the visceral pain I would feel as a mother when they are on the other side of the city or the world and are facing a challenge that you can’t solve for them. When you feel this invisible umbilical cord re-attach, trying to yank you back to your child, and there is no possible way to be there, there arises a helplessness that I have never felt.
I have come to understand that this invisible umbilical cord is like a rope that tethers us together. It is a lifeline in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes it is pulled taut in rougher waters. Sometimes it has enough slack so that they wander far in search of their own identity. I trust that the existence of this bond is enough for both of us no matter the circumstance.
As my children have grown, I have found a few strategies that have helped me in this transition. In some ways, they have saved me from projecting expectations and from becoming totally undone by worry and fear.
What saves me is listening. When they were babies, they would cry and I would have to figure out what was wrong. They would become toddlers and have tantrums and I would try to have to decipher what was underneath the frustration. As children, they were able to articulate a little bit more of what they felt and when they needed more of me – a cuddle, a cookie, and a story seemed to always fix things.
As I parent children in puberty and adolescence, I must be attuned to the subtlety of what is not said, the mysterious innuendo, and the almost unnoticeable change in tone. Listening to their ideas, their judgements, their confessions, their opinions, their needs, their questions, and their fears help me see them clearly. It helps me remember that they are changing every day and I have to see them for who they are right now and not who they were yesterday or five minutes ago.
What saves me is a circle of supportive women who are mothers that understand, including my own mother whose presence over the weekend comforted me. I’m sure she felt her own umbilical cord re-attachment too. Talking to other women who are in different stages of motherhood keep me sane.
What saves me is my self-care practice: the things I do to keep my inner world from spinning out of control into a darkness I have had trouble navigating out of in past years. As I remain consistent and build my own toolbox of different coping mechanisms, my kids do the same.
What saves me are joyful memories whenever I feel lost. I can stay in that joy until the feeling of anxiety passes without clinging to the past. I can remember that day we saw that Great Blue Heron on our family walk at our urban park and feel that togetherness that gives me hope and reminds me that life is beautiful.
As I struggled to come with answers for my resistance to surrendering, my son crawled into my bed yesterday morning, hugged my neck tightly, and with eyes half-opened asked, “What is the deal with the Easter bunny and eggs? It’s so awkward.” I laughed at my forgetfulness. I let go of all the tension in that single moment. I forgot that things don’t have to be so heavy. I forgot how my despairing demeanour must have affected the mood in our home over the last few days. I forgot all of the lessons that I teach my children – if you can’t find the light, you can be the light that shines the darkness away. I forgot that the peace that comes from surrender is not hard to find. It can be found in one simple innocent question about the Easter bunny and his awkward eggs.