Thoughts on Mothers and ParentingIt’s been a number of years now—what I refer to as that moment of enlightenment— that instant I recognized the way out of the house of pain my relationship had been with my mother. Mind you, it was after 40 years of trying this and that and everything else, as it took me a while to understand that nothing really changes until your intent is solid. It wasn’t on Mother’s Day either but one Thanksgiving morning, while I was making an apple pie (my mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch recipe), that the proverbial light dawned.
She had been dead for eight years by then, and in that interim I had moved back to the States to marry. I was standing at the kitchen counter slicing apples when all of a sudden it felt like someone was in the room with me. I never tried to cultivate those sorts of experiences so it got my attention. First, it was like a punch to the gut and all the remaining hurt and sadness in me where my mother was concerned came out in one last gasp and sob. I thought, oh no not again; I’m not falling in that pit again. But the next moment was the one, the one that ended it all. I heard and felt myself burst out laughing as, after years of lament about what it was like for me to have her as my mother, I suddenly realized what it was like for her to have me as her daughter. And there I stood laughing at the sweetest irony I’d ever known. I wasn’t bad or mean or even thoughtless, but my basic nature would have been her worst nightmare. Yet there I was—her daughter. I stood thinking about what it would have been like living with me, a thought I could never allow in all those painful years. I was too busy being right to notice how unsocial I was, how independent, and how little I wanted any help. My basic nature certainly pushed every button she had concerning her fears of being a good mother, given the hurts and pains of her childhood.
Next came a moment of great sadness, the Mary Oliver line of “if only we could have loved in time,” but the blessing of that moment was its wisdom, and it didn’t let me linger there but for a second. Instead, it pushed me on into the light that Truth always offers, the chance to see things anew beyond regret. In that moment, the sense of someone being present with me whooshed out of the room, and I was free. Free to love her as she was, and free to feel loved by her.
Years later, I heard the universe laughing at me this time, for never having had children, I suddenly found myself in a type of parenting situation, and I came to appreciate the immense amount of attention and focus that relationship requires. I got to meet my remaining demons face-on and see how much effort it takes to walk one’s talk in that most complex and critical interaction called parenting. I write about family all the time, for done rightly, it could be the dawning of a new age. In my mind, parenting is THE MOST IMPORTANT role we’ll ever have as an adult. We just haven’t left much time for it these days. And yet, everything that goes amiss in our later lives is seeded there. So what could we learn that could start us on a new way? It’s simple though not easy. Along with covering the logistics of life that will protect our children from the mechanical world around us, we need do only one other thing. We must learn who our child is—not who we want them to be, not who we think they should be, but who they are striving to be, and then we must help them become that. I see many parents who think they know their child. They delude themselves. That awareness is rarer than you might imagine. You see, it takes a great deal of listening and observing with your mind open and still to know about anything on this earth, most of all your children. Start by seeing if you can watch or interact with your children without talking to yourself about them; just watch, just listen. Then follow Mary Oliver’s instructions for living:
Tell about it.