“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.”
— James Joyce
It’s not about me and it’s not about my children, it’s about the minds of the human beings I have been gifted to guide and stand with in times of trouble and triumph, laughter and rest.
In April of this year I wrote about how my older son came to me to tell me that he and his friends were going to move to Florida and make a life for themselves together, far from where they have always called home. They had no real plan other than this wild, 18 year old being impulsive, I gotta be free to be me idea. My first reaction was shock and speechlessness.
I’ve always been the kind of mom that doesn’t quickly fly off the handle until all information has settled in. Then I go a bit coo-coo if all the information doesn’t add up to logic on any level. I remember each time my kids would come home with a scraped knee and blood was everywhere and tears were everywhere I remained calm. I even caught myself each time thinking, “wow, I’m really calm right now, how am I doing that?” It was instinctual for me to behave that way. I don’t know why or where it came from it was just the way I always reacted to high stress situations regarding my children, keep them calm by remaining calm; my husband, not so much. I save all the “flying off the handle” at a moment’s notice just for him. What a lucky guy.
So I listened to what my son was saying and I decided that little by little I would throw up road signs for him to watch out for in the hopes that these signs would put enough doubt in his decision to leave and he would choose to stay home and keep going on the road he was already successfully navigating. You know, those “what if”, “how will you”, what will you do if” signs. Nothing deterred him and so he drained a portion of his savings account, packed his bags, quit his job and left. I deeply hoped that he would just take my advice and not put himself through all of this turmoil and hardship. For one very long month he navigated his own life, made his own decisions, experienced life on his terms and then…… he came home.
The very first thing my son said when he walked in the door was, “Well, that was quite an experience but I don’t think I want to go back. It wasn’t what I thought it would be.” Are those not the words a mother wants to hear? (Just so you know, when he left the room some time later, I did a little jig in the kitchen, twirling myself around and around with a smile on my face so big that my cheeks hurt.)
What happened next was life changing and again left me speechless. My son decided to enroll in a university not too far from home but far enough away that he would have to live there. He knew the financial implications of a decision like that but it was what he thought would be the next right move. He thought also that living at school would be a better life experience than having to navigate his life completely on his own, away from most of his other friends, and away from access to home. As a backup plan he made an appointment with the community college where is started as a freshman and decided that just in case he didn’t get in to the university he would give himself this final option and talk to an adviser there. He picked up the mail on his way to his appointment at the community college and waited until he parked in the parking lot before opening the letter from the university. He didn’t get in. The university did not like his first year college grades. Disappointed, he got out of the car and headed in to the community college and met with is adviser. The adviser was very honest and blunt with him telling him that if he wanted funding to be reinstated, if he wanted to attend any university after community college, and if he wanted to pursue the degree he was planning on then his grades needed to go way up and his commitment needed to be true and sure. When that ordeal was done he took himself to his old employer and asked for his job back. It wasn’t easy for him to actually take those footsteps toward this final decision. He said he was nervous and a bit shaky to have to actually go back to community college and to have to face his former boss and colleagues but he said he knew what he had to do and was glad to have the option as opposed to no option at all. He got in to his old school and he got his old job back, both welcoming him with open arms and big smiles. Is that mature or what? Who is this kid?
When he came home to tell me what he did, I just stood there with my mouth open, again, speechless. This is becoming a pattern with him. What I noticed right away was that not one time did my son complain, or show an angry face or balk at the decisions that were taken away from him or express anger in any way. His attitude was one of calm but disappointment and most of all perseverance. The disappointment came from within him. He was disappointed in how he performed at school and how that led to him not getting in to the school he wanted and the funding he desperately needed and he was disappointed that he wasted time in not working. However, he then said that he viewed this as his second chance and he wasn’t going to screw it up this time. How did the boy become such a man overnight?
What I know for sure about being a mom is this….
1) Keep talking. Most importantly keep talking even when you see and feel like you are not getting through. Know that you are. When the words come from your heart, when you are completely engaged in your child’s well-being the words will come and they will get in. You have to trust this most of all.
2) Keep believing. I knew deep inside of my soul that my son was capable of making good decisions and that he was just lost right now. I knew who he imagined himself to be when he “grew up”. Don’t give up what you know to be true about your children. Believe in them and they will ultimately believe in themselves.
3) Keep being you. My children count on me to be me and all that entails. I talk too much and admit it, I cry when what I am trying to convey touches my heart so deeply that I can’t hold back and I don’t hide my tears from them, I yell when I am at my fraying point and just so overwhelmed at their behavior, I stop talking completely when I know that I don’t have it in me to say something helpful or kind. Your honesty and authenticity is what they count on most of all. It is what sets you apart from the rest of the world and the people in their world. You become the one person they know will live in truth for them and with them.
4) Keep the faith. I knew from my core that my son’s path was on the right track well before he decided to leave home. I believed with all of my heart that he was making a mistake but had faith that he would come to understand what I already knew. Faith is an unshakable belief in something or someone; it is confidence in that something or someone. It doesn’t mean that you don’t question within yourself what you know for sure. That is natural but keep the faith anyway.
5) Allow them to make mistakes. Each of us has free will. The greatest lessons learned are the ones that touch us from the inside out. My son couldn’t possibly understand or learn from just my words or my own experiences. He needed to feel for himself and experience for himself what I was trying to tell him. As hard as it was for me to know what he was up against I had to let go and trust enough that he would find his way. That trust alone allowed for him to create, on his own, the pathways out of his own mistakes. When he told me what he had done in terms of school and his job he was filled with self-pride, never once realizing that possibly my words had attached themselves to his psyche, to his heart. AWESOME!! It means everything that he did and took action on to help himself out of a bad situation came from within himself. Now he knows what he is capable of. Now he has started the pathway to trust himself and his own decision making processes. Now he sees and feels the difference between when things are “right” and when they are not “right”. Isn’t that what a parent wants for their children, that feeling of “I did this”?
6) Remember what it felt like when…..The greatest advice ever given to me was from my mom when my first child was born. “Lisa, remember what it felt like when you were 5,7, 10, 13, 18, 21…” etc. Staying in touch with who you were will help you better understand the roads your children will travel and navigate. Their personal experiences may not be exactly like what you went through but the life lessons are the same. Keep your heart open and your words flowing and your hugs at the ready.
There will absolutely, guaranteed be more mistakes down the road but the fact that I now know he can learn from those mistakes and prevent them from becoming failures is uplifting and encouraging and respectful. I now have a much deeper respect for my son and I don’t see him as a boy anymore. I can now start to see him as the man he wants to be and I realize that it is going to take some getting used to in how to relate to this man I see before me. And just for a moment I allowed myself to also realize that my role as “mom” has just shifted and I allowed myself to miss the young mother of a young boy I used to be. It made me want to have another baby and start again but then I thought, no. This is right, this is the next chapter; this is how it should be. There is a time and season for everything and I welcome the time with open arms and a most grateful heart.
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.”—Thich Nhat Hahn
I have to say that my son is happy. He is happy with his decisions, he is happy with his action steps and he is determined and ready to take even more control of his life and all that goes in to making his life. He has always had an idea of the man he wants to be and now he feels like he is on the right road toward becoming that man he sees in himself; and he did it all on his own. Fantastic!
Please share with me your experiences about motherhood. It would be an honor to stand beside you on your journey through this amazing experience.