Saturday, August 30, 2014

My top 4 parenting epiphanies, or My Child is Not My Property but My Guest

Kendra Jenee, 2014
After being a parent for 23 years I can quantifiably narrow down the top three disquieting revelations:

1.  The moment it dawns on you that no one else is going to show up to parent the newborn you just brought home.  

2.  The moment you realize you're actually going to trust a complete stranger to take care of the kid you just dropped off in his classroom for the first time.

3.  The moment your child walks out of your house and everyone knows that any time she walks back in it will be as an adult.

Kendra's Graduation Day, June 5th

Have you heard the adage "having a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”?  I remember it two weeks ago, watching my girl walk away from us into the crowd of college peers. Her back toward us, her face toward the unknown, me with hot tears on my face and my heart walking away from my body.  The shock of it is not softer even though it's the third time I've said this sort of good-bye.  

The first time felt clearer, a bit more violent, maybe. As in other sorts of grief, I've learned that those who enter fully discover a gift of clarity. No book, speaker or blog post has given me more insight into what it means to love and be loved, to engage in the work of peopling the planet than the deep sadness of saying good-bye to my own children.

Sisterly good-byes on UNT campus, August 17th

Entering this sort of grief is no work for the confused or isolated to try to manage. We parents need friends and family, and, occasionally, enemies to speak truth into our grieving hearts.  When Andrew moved out two years ago I spent an entire night sobbing because all of a sudden I couldn't think of a single good thing I'd ever done for him.  This is not insight, this is exhaustion.  And fear.  And general wickedness from a lying voice.

After the dust of that lie settled, my husband and friends helped me recognize a truer truth after Andrew walked out our door:  "Oh!  This is not about measuring up as a good parent, this was about hospitality."  Being a parent is about providing a space -- first within an actual physical womb and then in the shelter of home and family -- for a child to know and be known."  

The comfort in that epiphany is that I get to keep giving the gifts of hospitality to my children.  Now that they don't live in my house every day, the gift actually increases in value.  I've learned this first hand from my own parents and grandparents -- the deep sense of being just sitting in the comfort of their homes, at their tables.  

I get to do that now for my kids.  And joy comes in the morning.

Amber and Andrew celebrate their August birthdays, August 23rd

This summer -- two years after the perspective-altering insight into parenting as hospitality -- imagine my pleasure reading a passage from Henri Nouwen:
"It may sound strange to speak of the relationship between parents and children in terms of hospitality. But it belongs to the center of the Christian message that children are not properties to own and rule over, but gifts to cherish and care for. Our children are our most important guests, who enter into our home, ask for careful attention, stay for a while and then leave to follow their own way."  
"The difficult task of parenthood is to help children grow to the freedom that permits them to stand on their own feet, physically, mentally and spiritually and to allow them to move away in their own direction. The temptation is, and always remains, to cling to our children, to use them for our own unfulfilled needs and to hold on to them, suggesting in many direct and indirect ways that they owe us so much. It indeed is hard to see our children leave after many years of much love and much work to bring them to maturity, but when we keep reminding ourselves that they are just guests who have their own destination, which we do not know or dictate, we might be more able to let them go in peace and with our blessing."
-- from Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen
And here's one more revelation: 

4.  The moment when that child leaves our home as an adult and I lay to rest my ability to make requirements of him.  The great, thriving hope is that the 18 or so years we've invested in (imperfect but consistent) hospitality will mean my adult child will return often to the comfort and counsel we still offer. 

Alex visits Bekah and her roomies in Denton, August 17th

A few weeks ago -- somewhat predictably -- I muddle around again in the battle for truth about what it means that I've been a mom to Andrew, Alex, Kendra and Natalie. Too many things still confuse me.  Too many times I still revert to graceless fear. On a Friday morning, in the shrinking shade of an Austin coffee porch, I confess the anxiety to a dear friend.   

I say, "I'm trying to get better at this (referring to the three-quarters of my children who've now left home)." 

My friend says, "Tamara, you did it.  It's done.  Well done. Well done."

I can't even write that memory without more hot tears.  Could there be a better blessing than this?  

Farewell patio poker party, August 14th

In the lavish grace of God, another affirmation is spoken over me the very same week.  On this particular morning I can't move from my bed, such is the weight of my feeling that I've failed to mother well.  I have no hope for even the Words of God to make a difference, but I turn to them anyway.  Randomly I download a daily audio Scripture reading, hold the speaker portion of my phone near my head on the pillow. I miss most of the preamble, but am all ears by the time these words are spoken:
Micah 6:6-8: "With what shall I enter Yahweh's presence and bow down before God All-high?[...] Shall I offer my eldest son for my wrong-doing, the child of my own body for my sin? What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God."
Oh, glad Truth!  You make me new.  You save my children in the gaps of what I've offered them and what they've needed.  You save us now, are saving us each day, will save us to continue a grace-full pursuit of justice, humility and tender love. 

The resurrected Christ makes a way for us to live and move and parent in this overwhelming mercy and grace. Amen and thanks be to God.  

Last photo before saying good-bye, August 17
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