Thursday, May 2, 2013

From Womb to Waves Goodbye

The school year is drawing to a close. I can't think of a single year when I have learned so much about what education is and isn't and how parenting fits in, and doesn't, as I have this year. I am in no way done learning. I started my homeschool year with my son attempting to replicate school at home—only better, I thought, and more tailored to his needs—and I have learned that homeschooling generally doesn't work that way for a reason. Seeing what and how things can be learned by doing less has been eye-opening, but more than anything, if I'm honest, it has been terrifying. When my kid learns without my overtly planning everything, I feel moorless and I come right up against the deep and paralyzing dread that I am ruining him, setting him up to fail, leaving him behind, not doing my job. These moments of doing nothing are scary. All evidence to the contrary, doing what is closest to what everyone else is doing just seems the safest thing. I have learned that I will just keep on doing this act of imitation until I realize that I am sacrificing my son's happiness on the altar of my fears. So, now I'm looking again and asking myself how much of what I ask of him is what he needs and how much of it is like a little comforting rhyme that I repeat to myself in the dark so the closet zombies will not come.

Parenting my older kids has also been an opportunity for growth. With one child suffering from chronic health issues and the other peaking at perfect grades before suffering apathy and depressed disinterest in school, this year, I have learned that I care more about my kids' well-being than their grades. I didn't used to know that they were necessarily separate things or could be in conflict occasionally. I used to feel like if I just kept baking special cookies and serving healthy salads with dinner and giving hugs and attention and guidance, then the grades would obviously come. It turns out life is more complex than this.

At the very core, I've learned that my worst fear—that my kids will turn out like me—says something about the gratitude and joy for my life that I'm clutching to myself and hiding from my kids, lest they also wish to become teenage alcoholics who don't complete college. It's time to give that up.

The ultimate task of parenting, from womb to waves goodbye, seems to have something to do with first connecting with this other human so that you do not know where they end and you begin and then learning to understand that you are ultimately not in control and not responsible for how their lives shape themselves. To the extent that I can do this well—that is when I love. As long as I am attempting to control the experience and trajectory of a person who isn't me, the two of us will suffer, because I cannot make them grow up to whole and happy, I cannot make them find their way to spirituality, and I cannot even make them clean their rooms, no matter how much love I mean. I have power to influence and love, but none to control.

I am profoundly grateful to these children of mine for letting me test-drive my infant soul with their very lives. They are quite forgiving, quite patient with the efforts of all these silly adults to control their hearts with our tiny dams. They roll over us—sometimes smiling, sometimes yelling—like the swelling ocean breaking over our walls. They ebb back, patiently cooperating, and then surge forward, to finally grasp the adulthood that was always theirs.


  1. AMEN! " I have power to influence and love, but none to control." I painfully acknowledge that I didn't really get this until my kids were pretty much launched. I got it in bits and pieces along the way but not fully. I will say, despite my efforts, they have grown into wonderfully compassionate, responsible, interesting young adults. I wonder how it would have been if I had attempted to exert less control?

    1. I don't think any of us get it fully along the way, or that we're even supposed to. I have this feeling that it's probably our jobs to be attached and to be unattached brutally by our kids. So, I suspect you did a perfect job and that this is why your kids came out so well. I have these moments of clarity, but they will fade. It's all good. Or good enough, I think.

  2. Oh, Tara. You know how much I love this.
    Such a frightening thing to let go of that control...
    But what if, what if, what if?! And then they remind me... this, this, this.
    Such beautiful messes we all are.
    This is my favorite line: "I've learned that my worst fear—that my kids will turn out like me—says something about the gratitude and joy for my life that I'm clutching to myself and hiding from my kids..."
    Some of my greatest joys have grown out of my worst mistakes. I constantly have to remind myself that they won't make my mistakes, they'll make theirs and I can only hope that they will carve joy out of them.
    You're such a good mom. I learn so much from you.

    1. The secret to my success is that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, and I freely admit this to my kids and everyone.

      You're so right. They WILL make their own mistakes. The irony of parenting is that we try so hard to prepare them not to make the ones WE made, while all the while they are brewing some spectacular scheme of their own to crash and rise upon the beauty of the world.

  3. How beautiful! Truth, even in all its itchiness, is always beautiful. You're such a wonderful mother and I love how you love your kids.

    1. Thanks, Beth. This compliment means a great deal to me.

  4. This is as usual a wonderful post, filled with such deep thinking. I read quite a few posts about parenting these days. I never had children, so I have as an example only myself and my mother and my grandmother. And I have to say, I never realized that rearing children was so complicated and created such conflicts in the parents' minds. All I can say is, I'm so glad I never had children! My mother used to tell me that I wouldn't have made a good mother, because I had too big of a temper - too impatient! I think she was right! I'll just stick with giving birth to fictional characters - I can do whatever I like with those!

    1. Agreed. Parenting is such a mess. It's just that, those conflicts, in all their gory humility, are often the place where I go to find my soul. If it wasn't for this child-raising gig, I suppose I would become a nun or run marathons. There's gotta be something to strive for—I'm in love with that BURN. The worthwhile challenge of working for something. I know that people without children find it elsewhere, and if it wasn't for you guys, there's a lot of good work in the world that just plain wouldn't get done, because those of us raising kids often act like we're celebrating at the peak of Everest just because the damn laundry got done.

      I'm glad you're out there giving birth to fictional characters. It makes the world a more interesting place. :)

  5. "I have power to influence and love, but none to control."
    I always thought that once they were grown, I could stop worrying. I was so naive!

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  9. One of the things I've figured out about parenting over the years is that the things we mean to teach them and the things they actually learn are often worlds apart. I loved this piece and can identify with so very much of it.


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License