The moment two lines appeared on that pregnancy test, I began dreaming up what the future may hold. I imagined how my child would be, and what our life together would look like.
I had a beautiful vision.
There are certain things that you don’t take into account. Things you cannot foresee. But we will get to that later.
For now, I held a beautiful baby boy in my arms, and I was determined to “get it right.”
And truthfully, I felt like I was mostly “getting it right” for the first three years. We had a strong bond. He was “a good baby” by societal standards, meaning he didn’t fuss much, was generally happy and content, and was hella cute.
He was laid-back and well-behaved. It’s easy to feel like you’re doing a good job when you have an easy-going kid. Our days were joyous and fun, and I couldn’t imagine a day would ever come that we weren’t as happy, as connected, and as content as this. And since I was such a pro, I decided to have another one.
My second baby boy arrived with a little more fire. His arrival threw my firstborn for a loop, and our joyous days descended into chaos as he wrestled with big emotions and I scrambled to get his new behavioral issues “under control.”
Few things are as frowned upon in our culture as having a child who misbehaves. There is a lot of pressure to have well-behaved, obedient children, and parents go to great lengths to make this happen. Caught in this net of societal expectations and shame-faced at my son’s defiance, I heeded the warnings of friends and family who told me I’d better show my child who’s boss. The whispers of my heart were drowned out by a cacophony of voices telling me to get a handle on him.
In my desperation, I discovered all sorts of tricks and techniques meant to get him in line. I tried most of them. It turns out there was no magic in counting to three. Behavior charts made him give up at “being good” by the second infraction. Time-outs temporarily stopped one problem behavior but would cause two more to crop up. Nothing was working. Nothing gave me the outcome I so desperately needed to feel okay about myself as a mom.
Nothing makes you feel like a failure quite like having a child you can’t control.
Until you realize control isn’t the goal.
Control, at best, can only be held onto for so long. Eventually, it starts to slip away as children grow, and you either have to up the ante to maintain that illusion of control or you have to accept the fact that you really don’t have control at all.
A great relief came when I stumbled upon Positive Parenting and discovered that connection, not control, was what we needed to calm the chaos. I quickly switched from time-outs to time-ins, I calmed my own triggers and focused more on modeling the behavior I wanted to see, and I leaned in and stayed close when they were struggling.
I have to say, it worked wonders.
But there was a catch-22.
I put so much faith in my new parenting style that I was sure my sons would never hit a speed bump. I was confident that our attachment would never waver. I was positive I was raising kind, compassionate, caring, emotionally intelligent, emotionally healthy humans, and so once again I found myself in that trap of expectations. While, thankfully, strong relationships were my priority, I was still focused on the outcome of my parenting. I still held a vision in my mind of the adults they would become, and every time that vision was threatened, I felt panicked.
The teenage years have taught me a very important lesson. We cannot control the outcome. No matter how “right” we get this parenting thing, we do not hold all the power. As I mentioned before, there are certain things that you don’t take into account. Things you cannot foresee. I respect my sons’ personal stories and journeys, so I cannot give details, but suffice to say we have endured some challenges.
It doesn’t matter what our struggles have been because the truth is that hardship finds us all eventually. Every human must endure some pain, some challenges, some difficulty. It’s a part of life and growth. We cannot control all the variables. We cannot vet everyone that comes into their circles of influence. We can guide our children and be in their corner, but they must find their own way.
Surrendering control for connection was relieving.
Letting go of the outcome is freeing.
I have watched my sons grow into young men, and they are nothing like what I envisioned when I held them in my arms those first months. And that’s okay, because my vision was pretty boring.
They are uniquely them.
They will become who they are meant to be. I’m not here to create them. They were created before they came home. I’m here to love them. Without conditions and without fail, I’m here to provide a safe haven where love and warmth can always be found.
And although things don’t look the way I imagined them, I am comforted by the fact that my sons come to me to talk about their hardships. They text me when they’re anxious. They put their heads on my shoulder when they’re struggling. I can’t always chase away the darkness, but I can always be here holding the light when they’re ready to turn toward it. Our relationship is what truly matters. It’s what keeps guiding them home.
There are no tips, tricks, or techniques that will mend the heart and soothe the soul. That is done through relationships. There is no magical parenting advice that will keep trouble at bay for life, but because of our strong and safe relationship, they’ll always know where to turn.
Yes, as a parent, my job is to teach my children to the best of my ability, but the outcome isn’t up to me. In the end, there really isn’t an outcome to be had, is there?
In my 40s, I’m still becoming.
I haven’t yet reached a point where I’ve stopped growing and changing. My boys won’t either.
There is no destination to reach. It’s a journey to walk together.
I choose to walk it in love.