When I was a child I dreamt of becoming a powerful attorney living in a high rise apartment in New York City. I wanted to use my relentless arguing skills and my strong sense of protection for the greater good. I did not see marriage in my future, nor could I possibly imagine having children. No interest.
When I did choose to get married, I wondered if I would ever follow the typical path of starting a family. It was hard to see giving up my independence and passion to do so. It wasn’t until I held a premature baby in my hands that I had the flash of desire to care for something so small and seemingly helpless. That was the moment everything changed.
When I became pregnant with my first child my friends had a hard time imagining me as a mom. I felt the same. Two weeks before I gave birth to my daughter, I cried to a friend that I might have made a mistake and wasn’t sure I could do it. Having tragically lost my own mother while a teenager scarred me deeply and I felt like my ability to mother may have died with her. My confidence in my abilities was non existent.
This is the part of the story where I want to tell you that the first time I looked in her eyes, I knew she was what I was waiting for. But that is not even close to true. I felt even more frightened when I met her and even more concerned I had no idea what I was doing. The fact that she was relying on me to pretend like I did was even more scary. I suddenly felt the weight of responsibility that terrified me.
What if I screwed it up? What if I hurt her with my lack of knowledge? What if she didn’t like me or worse, what if I didn’t like her? A lifetime of attachment fears fed my mind and I felt trapped. It intensified when I realized there was no turning back.
Despite my fear, I took the job seriously. I read as many books as I could on how to feed properly, what temperature to not scald the child in a bath, natural remedies for common ailments and what an irresponsible mom I was for letting my child sleep with me so I too, could sleep.
I listened to advice. I took it all in and practiced patience, openness, techniques to get my kid to listen, techniques to get my kid to talk. How to get her to use a toilet and how to get her to clean up after herself. I wanted desperately to do everything right. No one told me that having a child was the equivalent of taking my heart out of my body and holding it out for the all the world to potentially hurt it. The risks felt so huge and the fear so big.
The only thing I could not seem to learn from a book was how to fully love my child—courageously. That, it turned out, was all on me and has been the biggest challenge of all.
After 16 years now of watching my daughter grow and 13 years of watching my son, as well as a lifetime career of working with kids, parents and friends, I’ve learned a few things worth sharing.
1- It’s not about Me.
As egocentric humans we tend think EVERYTHING is about us. The choices our kids make. The paths they venture down. Their successes and failures. None of it is about us. None.
My job as a parent is to guide, to inspire, to create an environment I hope they will thrive in, and then, let them live in it.
The more I make it about me, the more I teach them to lose their confidence, independence and ability to trust themselves.
Does this mean I don’t make it about me? Not a chance. I often make it about me because that’s what we do. It’s what we’ve been taught and its a tough one to unlearn.
On the days they thrive, I pat myself on the back. But on the days I am challenged, I have to again check in with myself to see it’s my insecurities and fears that make it about me even when it’s not.
2- I am not in control.
I never have been. The illusion of control I have held is strong. On my most insecure days I am certain I am in control of their minds, their choices, and their guilt. Nope.
They always make the choice how they will respond. They will either buy into my tactics or they won’t. I have absolutely no control over either despite my best efforts.
They began making their own choices the minute they ventured from the womb. Whether to eat or not eat, to sleep or not sleep, to listen or to ignore. It’s all been their choice.
I control their environment, their belongings in my home, and their comfort in it. I control my words and my expressions. My behaviors and what I model for them.
I control how often I tell them I love and accept them as much as I control my eye rolls. After that, I’ve got nothing.
When I let go of my need to control them, I am rewarded with their trust in me, trust in myself and faith in the process of life. It is the flavor of true freedom.
3- We all came here to love and be loved. All of us.
Our biggest “lesson” in life is to experience love at its fullest capacity. We have the innate desire to be loved and to give it.
That means we have to feel fear if we want to feel faith. We have to feel anger if we want to feel compassion. We have to feel hate if we want to feel love. The extremes are how we experience the full gamut of what life has to offer.
My role is not to shield my kids from this reality, but to use my own experience and wisdom to support them through their own it. They came here to live. My job is to mentor them through it, not to do it for them.
Of course I want to shield them from pain. I want to put them in a bubble and solve all of their problems. And if I did, it would be the biggest disservice to them to not let them truly feel what will make them stronger, wiser, braver and genuinely more compassionate human beings. The same as all of my pains and hardships have done for me.
Protecting them from challenge does not make them happier. It makes them more vulnerable to deeper pains, insecurities and ignorances I can’t protect them from at all.
Loving them courageously means letting them learn to do the same.
Checking in with these truths for myself is what helps me to fully love my children (and my role as their mom) to the best of my ability. And so far, it’s working for us.
Parenting is the most amazing and brave experience I’ve signed up for thus far. The most challenging, the most scary and occasionally- the most rewarding. The attorney in the high rise I dreamt of would likely not have had the courage to work in this gig. I’m forever grateful she changed her mind.