Being a mother to children ages nineteen and almost seventeen can be a bewildering, conflicting business. They’re not children, for one. They are somewhere very close to adulthood, and it’s no longer my job to drive them places, or pack snacks or enforce some of the smaller rules I hoped would give structure to their lives. Their lives are mostly their own now, and as their mother I often consider my usefulness or lack of it in my new role. Now is when they take what I’ve given them and run with it. Sometimes these days, the very best thing I can do for them is to step back into the shadows and be quiet, even absent, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow as well as practically difficult. I frequently feel the stress of not saying something in my jaw or my stomach as a physical affliction.
For years and years, I was loud, omnipresent, a ‘wizard of oz’. It was a helicopter-parenting generation, after all, so I controlled and set schedules and priorities for my family. My ‘yes’ and ‘no’ meant everything; it was the final word. Mine was a well-meaning, gregarious, and mostly cheerful authority but it was mine in the end. Now the curtain is pulled back and I am revealed for what I was all along; a flawed human trying to do her best with a job much too big for anyone to accomplish. The raising of children is not for the weak of heart. It’s a marathon. Actually, it’s several marathons in a row, maybe eighteen of them, and there’s no break. No resting. I’ve heard mothers say that if they knew in advance how much they’d love and worry over their children with every waking moment, they’re not sure they would have become mothers at all. And I get it, but we know we would have. Motherhood is strength-training, an accelerated course for becoming the best human you can be. And anything worth getting, like the particular bravery, empathy, and wisdom that come through the crucible of mothering, is going to be hard work by definition.
Now I no longer direct, but advise. I try to avoid nagging and cajoling as these are unpleasant colors on me, but I do fall short at times. Mostly, I pray and I pray and I pray. Sometimes my children choose what I would choose for them, but not always. Sometimes they surprise me with their wisdom and goodness. Sometimes I am left shaking my head. They are good people, on a journey, like I am, and at this moment in time, we are all figuring it out.
Their stories are in progress, on good roads, and sometimes I imagine myself at the end of a dusty driveway waving at them with a kerchief from a broken down farmhouse. Raising them has cost me, and fed me in ways I could never have imagined, and now they’re leaving me step by step, as they should. Stepping back from uber-active participation in their lives is a daily purgatory for me. I often think to myself, what now?
I was talking with God about all of this this morning and He totally gets it. After all, He has created and raised billions of children. In what is perhaps the most confounding decision in human history, He set us free to make our own decisions, for better or worse. He watches as we do right and wrong and He doesn’t interfere, though He could and sometimes we wish He would. He sees how we are hurt and He comforts. He makes good of our mistakes. He will come running when we call on Him. He is making a place for us to come Home to when we’re done learning, doing, and growing.
It’s true, we call God ‘Father’ an awful lot, but this kind of behavior sure sounds like a mother to me. Certainly, it’s a model for me and other mothers who are letting our children go, but that doesn’t make it easy. I was my children’s first home and I poured myself into them with every day and I wouldn’t have it any other way, truly, but some days it doesn’t feel like there’s an awful lot left.