Elul 7 – Understand
It’s hard to understand the kids. They use different words to mean different things (like “sauce” to mean pass – really?) They present things in different ways. They don’t share my goals or my dreams. Things that I strongly dislike or that make me uncomfortable are perfect for them. And each different too! I can’t even say “kids these days” because all 3 of my big “I left home and I’m grown up now” kids are so different. Frankly, my small kids aren’t that small any more. With one already Bar Mitzvah and one about to hit the double digits, all my kids are “grown up” in their own very different ways.
And so my relationship with them must change – I hate change, but this year, it seems to have shown up as a theme. I need to listen more carefully than ever to them. I can’t assume anything except that I’m often wrong.
In particular I have to think the best of the kids. I must replace “they are lazy” with “they are taking the time they need” and “they are shiftless” with “their ambitions are different.” It’s easy for me to see very little things – a mess left in a room, a brusque comment, a delay in texting back – as a sign that their differences are wrong, that they’re careless and self-focused, that they need to be corrected and taught and advised.
It’s what I did for so many years! I tried hard to give good advise, set useful rules, teach correct lessons. Now, they don’t need that. They just want to be understood and accepted and loved. It’s confusing! How can I be there for them when sometimes that means giving them a great deal of space?
I know part of it is to keep reaching out, keep communicating, keep connecting. Building a bridge with my kids – I can’t imagine a more important activity. It’s also very rewarding. They are infinitely interesting, intelligent and successful young people. They are excelling in ways I never could (and making mistakes I never made, but that’s growth, right?)
Part of it is letting them set the timing, the content and everything else about our conversations. I need to be there for them – but just in the way they need me. If I push, I lose that connection. That’s a bridge I treasure – the fact that my kids can confide in me is what I feel one of my biggest successes is.
Most of it though is about understanding. I listen to them, I work to understand them, and I recognize the divine shining through them. It’s hard work – but it’s the work that I have before me. I may as well enjoy trying to understand.
Oh, I started crying in Shul yesterday morning, and the reason was as ridiculous as those fairy stories that I used to read so very long ago. You know, the one where the girl goes down to the basement, sees a hammer, balanced precariously, pictures having a kid, and having the kid get older, and having the hammer fall on his head and hurt him? That one?
I was sitting for a few minutes next to my son (yes, sweetie, this one is about you – I know, how embarrassing), all grown with a beautiful voice singing prayers. He was old enough and big enough to put his arm around me for comfort. I looked at him and realized that this sitting together with me at services was, for various reasons, happening less often. That it might not happen much in the future. Because he was growing up and he was going to go away and he would be more independent and the day would even come when we would not spend High Holidays together despite the fact that we had for every High Holidays of his life. And he wasn’t the only child I had for whom this was the case, either.
It was heartbreaking. Beautifully, dreadfully, wonderfully, frighteningly, awe-inspiringly, overwhelmingly heart-breaking. My children are moving towards independence. They are developing their own lives and they need me less and less. They go to others for support, sometimes within family, and sometimes not. They make their own mistakes and want to spend time with their own people, some of whom I don’t even know. It’s not just them either. As they gain independence, I take mine. I have work I need to do and challenges I have to meet. I even take time to have fun and go out and don’t say that it’s impossible for me to do so because the kids need me.
Sure they still need me. I’m their mom. They have gone past so many ways in which they saw me – as the all-knowing parent figure, as the complete embarrassment, as the evil taskmaster (yes, I make you do your homework out of a sadistic desire to hurt you ,) as the annoying nag, as the best teacher and guide. Now, I’m potentially all of those things, still and so much their mom. But not the only person for them to spend special times with; not the only person for them to make memories with; not the only one to teach and love them. More and more, their memories are made with the family they chose. And I can and do fret about it and pray they make the right choices and do the right things. Sometimes, they do. Sometimes they don’t. But all I can do is fret and pray. I have less and less control over those decisions, and eventually – no control at all. This is true and wonderful regardless of whether they are 5 or 15 or 25 but it is even more true for the ones that are ready to live on their own. With every inch they’ve grown, with every skill they’ve mastered, they’ve become more themselves, and more ready to handle the world without me.
Oh, I know. This is so prosaic and not unique and repeated again and again for so many that it is barely worth mentioning. It is September, and parents all over are having their babies move away and live on their own (or at least put on their school uniforms and leave the house for those first temporary steps of freedom). It’s a life stage, is all – where the parents start passing away as they get older and the children start moving out as they get older and we get older and discover that we have gained some resources to handle this lonely feeling that we need to deal with. I’ve read about this stage. I knew it was coming. I was ready for it – except not really. Seeing it – realizing that it was happening to ME right NOW and that it hurt. I wasn’t ready.
Thank goodness I still have littles in my house and in my life and it will be many, many years before the last one is gone. Maybe by then, I’ll be ready. Until then, I’ll cry tears of joy and gladness for the maturity and independence of my children. They are growing, learning, beginning. It is right and beautiful. So, let my heart break and let my tears flow, as my beautiful grown babies begin the next chapter in their lives and I begin the next chapter in mine.