I’ve always thought I was adept at change. In the early years of our marriage, when jobs and apartments and even regions of the country where we lived were fluid, I embraced new beginnings and found them exciting. If things felt stagnant and predictable, I felt constrained, chafed against the ordinary responsibility of everyday life.
If one thing remained constant, however, it was my need to pinpoint my exact identity in relation to whatever was changing. As long as I knew who I was, despite my changing zip code or job title, all was well.
Motherhood first came to my husband and me as a surprise. After working through the shock of getting pregnant only eight months into my marriage, I armed myself with every parenting book I could find. Surely, all the wisdom they contained would fill in the wide cracks of the mothering knowledge I possessed, and nobody would know that underneath all my research was a terrified 23-year-old mom.
An emergency cesarean section and a sleepy, jaundiced baby uninterested in nursing immediately challenged the idea of the “natural” mama I thought I’d be. Change is hardest when you feel you’ve lost control.
As days turned into weeks, however, my fears subsided and I began to embrace motherhood’s sweetness. My best memories of this time were a napping newborn on my chest and quiet sunshine filling our apartment. The love that had begun to grow for my son filled every part of my heart and I knew that I was born to be this boy’s mama.
Money was tight in those early years so I filled our days the best ways I knew how: library books and playground visits and walks through our puddle-filled Oregon neighborhood. We knew each other’s rhythms, this boy and I. I loved how his small hand effortlessly found mine in public. We spent hours reading and drawing and constructing Lego houses. When I went back to work, he would run to greet me at the end of the day with a joy that filled my soul.
Today that boy towers over me. He drives. He shaves. He can make me laugh like few others can. He understands complicated trigonometry in ways I never will. We voted together in the last election. The waves of exciting changes to his life now astonish me. Next month, he will graduate from high school and a few months later, we will load up our minivan, deliver him to a huge public university in a large city far from home and drive away, leaving him alone to make new friendships and find his own way. The physical reality of that act makes my stomach flip every time I envision it. The waves of firsts and lasts in his life pound relentlessly these days and unmoor me a little. If he is an adult, who am I as his mother?
I always vowed I would embrace this season with grace and courage. Sons become men and daughters become women, and it is futile to pretend otherwise. I will not hold on so tightly that he must rip himself away. It is a process imbued with pain and uncertainty, however. Did I teach him well? Will he always know I love him? Does he know it is OK to fail and that showing up for life is what matters most?
My biggest parenting challenge these days is to know when to not speak the worries that cross my mind. My “just in case” advice has the potential to make my son feel like I don’t have confidence in him. Yes, he’s old enough to know whether he’ll be cold or hungry later. Yes, he’ll be careful driving because he’s spent countless hours practicing and taking drivers’ education. Yes, he has enough practice forming friendships to know which ones are wise to pursue.
The best times with my son now are unplanned – when I let go of my expectations enough to pause in the moment and really listen to what he is saying.
Late at night, when my husband and I talk about our concerns for our children, one of us invariably will comfort the other with the reminder that God loves our children even more than we do, and he holds them in the palm of his hand. So, we pray for them and love them and cook their favorite meals while we can. Because the God that loves our children, also holds us in his hands. And we can cling to him while the swirling waves of our changing parenting roles swirl around us.
Cheri Wampole is a former newspaper reporter and copy editor who lives in western Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, and a daughter. Every day she tries to get some fresh air, read a little, and keep everyone in clean socks.