“If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have? These exotic revelations bubbled up involuntarily and I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother.” —Miranda July
When my son was old enough in his babyhood, I let him cry himself to sleep. It was not a given that I would be ok with this. The thought of his little self, this little part of me crying alone in the dark was enough to keep me tolerating sleepless nights forever. Yet there were two things that made me reconsider. One was the word self-soothe. That term surrounded the arena of childhood sleep habits and in the context of so many of my yoga classes. The child experts said, “It’s important children know how to self-soothe.” (Or perchance they spend a lifetime expecting me to fix their problems or worse crystallize a belief system that says they can’t handle their difficulties on their own.) In the yoga room I heard, “Take care of yourself” or “You got this!” and realized that if I just took a look at what was inside I could shift my whole attitude on things. I wanted that for my sons.
So when the right time came and my gut said it was now there was a part of me that believed even amidst my son’s tears and calls out for mama he was learning a valueable lifelong lesson — That with the right conditions surrrounding him, he was capable of getting through his difficulties; That I was there to believe in him but not to takeover for him. They were his struggles to shape himself from.
The other thing that helped me be ok was something my mother said: “It would be harder on you, than it would be on him.” Could there be a truer statement about our kids’ struggles? That bit of wisdom would ring true for almost every trial and tribulation my sons’ would encounter, persevere and hopefully triumph throughout their lives.
My kids are much older now and I no longer live in the same state as them. I am no longer within ear shot or even within driving distance. Now my kids call me to share things about their lives. I am not there to see them hide out in their rooms if they had a bad day or offer them a sandwhich when they sit moping at the table. It’s rough to have such little physical nearness. Espcially when they call with sadness or confusion or their own heaviness. When they sing away about how great things are going for them it is enough to carry me for the rest of my week. My kids are doing great! and suddenly the sky seems bluer. But when I hear despondence or fear in their voices my body hurts and everything around me pales.
It hurts to hear about their pain. I want to rush in and make it all go away like I did when they were babies. I don’t want them to feel it if only for the reason that I know how much life can hurt. When they are younger we can kiss their foreheads, surround them with binkys and blankets and cuddly toys, tip toe out of their room and pray that the crying lasts as long as it takes to brush our teeth. When it doesn’t, it takes relentless will power to stay the course. To remember the self-reliance we want to instill within them. While my young son was learning his first steps toward helping himself feel better, I was simulataneusly learning to forgive myself for not rescuing him. This is a forgiveness I practice as I raise them from afar.
Letting my kids have their struggles has been one of my hardest parenting lessons to date. It takes a certain dose of trusty consciousness and faith that despite the bruising of their hurt feelings or their confusions or their bad days that I cannot no matter how much I want to take away their pain or their hard feelings. I can’t save them from having their hearts broken. I can only do my best to teach them that we can survive the breaks. Teach them that we can even thrive because of them. This is only something they can learn if they are given the chance to.
When they were little I used to say “shhh”. When they were slightly older I would still say shhh and maybe take them out for ice cream. And now even older and living away from me I have learned to listen more and talk less. I try advice giving. Cheer leading. Counseling. But then I catch myself and realize that mostly what they need is for me to hear them. The shh is now replaced with “I hear how hard that is.” and “I am so sorry you are going through this.” Anything other than that is a feeble attempt at making me feel better and if I can do myself any service in these moments of entaglement, it would be to remember it is not about my feelings whatsoever. Even though my feelings are so prominently present.
Last week I had a moment on the playground. I actually went as far as approach another seven year old directly after I watched him be mean to my own young son. I even knelt down to his level before I realized I had no idea what I could say to fix things. I watched my son stand behind me looking bewildered and slightly embarassed.
The cries of our own children cut deep. Their disappointments. Their rejections. Their bad days. Their tough moments weigh longer and heavier on us. We can see that when they are younger, how they can turn on a dime from hysterics to complete bliss. It takes us longer to recalibrate and stop wondering incessantly about whether they will be ok. Would their bad days take up permanent residence inside of their perfect bodies and steal them away from being the happy little children we wished them to be throughout their lives? Now when my older kids call me and I could hear their despair I say nothing. They talk. I listen. I press my ear to the phone the way I used to press my ear against their nursery door and I wait for them to get quiet.