When I first began doing research for Conscious Motherhood – both the book (yet to be published) and the website – I was struck by the recurrent theme among new parents about how challenging it was to let go. The specific area of challenge differed from each person, ranging from letting go of getting stuff done to letting go of getting eight hours of consecutive sleep a night to letting go of attachments to the identity of being a working person in the outside world, but there was almost always at least one – and usually several – areas where the new mother or father had a hard time surrendering.
While the challenges differed, the difficulty in letting go simmered down to one word: control. Nothing crystallizes our control issues as much as parenthood. When we move beyond the newborn phase and our identity as a parent is solidified, we generally accept that life is irrevocably altered and we no longer bemoan the fact of interrupted sleep or lack of exercise. Chunks of self-time return incrementally and we find that our identities as a separate-self and a parent-self can co-exist. The larger issues of control are now sidelined to make room for the endless opportunities that arise each day where we can either grip more tightly or pray for the grace to let go, surrender, exhale, and accept life – and our children – as they are.
Last week, I was graced with two moments where I viscerally exhaled into that place of acceptance, where the grip of thinking I can or should control my kids released into the ease of knowing that life and my kids were fine just the way they are. They were both small incidences, moments that I probably wouldn’t have registered had I not been attuned to these nuances of holding on versus letting go that are central to my work with transitions. And while the moments aren’t directly connected to a life transition, I consider parenting itself an ongoing transition because of the continual opportunities for letting go that present themselves when we approach this path consciously.
The first incident was such a small moment. Our friends came over to play last week. We were all in the yard and, having not spent social time together in several weeks, I felt very happy that they were here. But my baby had other plans. He was tired. He was uncomfortable physically. He was, in a phrase, in a bad mood. I figured it was time for a nap so I excused myself from my friends and went upstairs. He fell asleep quickly, but after 40 minutes woke up crying. I ran upstairs (oh, the world of baby naps), and got him back down. I could hear my friends playing outside. I could hear my bigger boy growing impatient with something. With all my heart I wanted Asher to fall back asleep so I could return to our play. I positioned my body just right. I quieted my breathing. I did everything possible to try to control his sleep. I felt the tightness of control grip my body.
Then, suddenly, everything released. The grace of “everything is okay” washed over me and I could see the situation for what it was: if he falls asleep, fine. If doesn’t fall asleep, fine. It’s no big deal. Yes, I want to spend time with my friends without a crying baby disrupting our play, but if that’s not what life has planned, so be it. Instead of wishing the situation to unfold into a particular outcome, I trusted that everyone would be okay exactly as it was happening. Lisa and Henry were fine in the yard. Everest was fine with my husband. Could I enjoy this moment of lying next to my precious baby, listening to the lullabies on the CD, warm and cozy on his little bed together? Could I be here now, appreciating this moment, surrendering to whatever outcome was meant to be? Yes, I could. For that moment, I could.
The second incident had further reaching affects on me. I’ve been concerned recently about Everest’s articulation, worrying that several sounds haven’t come in yet. I called a speech therapist for an evaluation so we could either address the issue now or learn that he’s within the “normal” range for these sounds. The therapist came to our house one morning last week. He was wonderful, one of those people who truly loves and understands kids, and Everest responded positively to him immediately. After about half an hour the man turned to me and said, “Who suggested he get evaluated?” “No one. I was just worried.” To which he responded, “He’s fine. But I’ll continue with the test just to make sure.” As they played games and eventually completed the test, the therapist said to me, “Not only is his speech well within the normal range, but his vocabulary, fine-motor skills, and imagination are well beyond what I normally see at this age. Your child is fine.”
Your child is fine. With those words, I saw in that moment how much I’ve been micro-managing and hovering over Everest lately. I had been so concerned about the articulation that I had convinced him to practice sounds with me each night before bed. While he was agreeable to it, I could see that he was mostly doing it for me and most of the time I would feel myself getting frustrated when the practice would turn to silliness. The seeds for a power struggle were preparing to sprout. But that morning, when the therapist said those words, the same release of letting go that I had experienced with the Asher’s nap washed over me.
Can I let go of Everest’s articulation? Yes. Can I trust that he’s developing and growing just fine? I’ll try. I find, as I found from the moment I became a parent (and even before that during pregnancy) that our current culture encourages us to micro-manage our kids. The recent term “helicopter parent” hit a chord in the mainstream, as it describes many parents’ tendencies to hover over their kids and not allow them the freedom to walk to school alone, for example. The term spoke to the fear that most of us have about physical or emotional harm coming to our kids, and that parents are held responsible. The question becomes: how do we keep our kids safe and give them the attention they need while letting go and trusting that they’ll find their way?
As I counsel my clients, so I practice in my own life: To breathe into acceptance of life as it is. To be aware of my habitual tendencies to over-analyze and micro-manage. To soften, to accept, to embrace with gratitude the blessings before me.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998 she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions.