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Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary Michelle Hamel Parenting Prayer Vocations

The Art of Letting Go

 

The Art of Letting Go

When the majority of my children were young, I couldn’t imagine life without all the craziness of having littles. Our oldest 6 children were born in a 10 year span. And, when the youngest of that crew went to kindergarten, God blessed us with a bonus baby…that was followed 2 years later by a bonus, bonus baby! There were lots of years of babies and toddlers!

Parenting young children is physically exhausting because of their many needs all day and, at least with our lousy sleepers of which there were several(!), all night long.

When my older kids were young, I remember listening to other parents talk about how they couldn’t wait for their kids to start school and be more independent. (To which I would cringe a little on the inside because I couldn’t imagine my life without babies and little ones around!) In a way, they were right. When my kids started getting a little more independent and could play on their own for short amounts of time so that I could get a little housework done with, (gasp*) two hands and no child on my hip, that was a pretty amazing feeling. When you can go places without diaper bags, giant car seats, and without having to worry about nap time, that makes life easier! A little increase in our child’s independence gives parents a little more freedom and it feels pretty good for the most part.

And then they become teenagers and young adults….

The parenting of older children is emotionally and mentally exhausting. They grow and stretch you in ways you never imagined. The many stages of letting go can be really hard. Every small stretch and break of the family ties that we have grown so used to since the day they were born is painful.

One of the hardest parts about the growing and stretching is the completely polar views parents and teens/young adults have of the same situation. Our teens and young adults have so much enthusiasm for the future. They have an innocence of the crazy dangers this world can hold. They are living in one of those “ignorance is bliss” times of life, which can make them overconfident about all the new adventures they can’t wait to embark on.

Our teens and young adults’ desire for independence bangs up against the bond of mother and child that we have had up to this point. These teen and young adult years brings a subconscious pushing away from mom because we are the nurturers and, in order for them to feel independent and “grown up”, they need to separate from us emotionally in some ways. It’s their desire for independence pushing against my nurturing relationship with them…and sometimes they push way harder than they need to because they are trying to figure out who they are separate from us. Learning to navigate these “pushing away moments” without feeling hurt isn’t easy.

As a mom, my care, nurturing and emotional connection to my older child needs to grow and stretch and change. It needs to break to be reforged on a different level. It’s a kind of emotional childbirth, and in some ways, it’s as painful as the physical childbirth that disconnected both of us in the first place! (note: What I’m saying is not from any documented study. It is just my own experiences with our teens and young adults.:)

As a mom, there are so many conflicting emotions. There is grief over the end of their childhood. There is excitement as I watch my child start growing into the adult they are meant to be. There is fear..SO much fear…as they start to navigate the world more on their own. I can’t protect them like I used to. Their worlds become even bigger and my part in that world becomes noticeably smaller and it all happens so very quickly!

I’ve been through the process a few times, and I can honestly say it’s different with each child. It was easiest for me with my oldest two because they have stayed close to home. Even though Mike was the first to move out, it wasn’t a hard transition because he was so close by. It was a relatively painless “weaning” process for me, made easier because his habit of watching sporting events late into the night when he lived with us was challenging for all the family members that like to go to sleep at more reasonable bedtimes.

My second son, Andrew, graduated last spring and got his first professional job. He’s getting married this summer, (we LOVE his fiancé), and is living home until closer to the wedding to save money for the honeymoon and so he can pay down his student loans faster. It’s a responsible idea and totally ok with us. He plans on living close by when they get married, which I’m happy about. This has been another easy transition for me. (And whenever a big life change is easy on the emotional level I’m thrilled!)

My struggles began with son #3. Our third son, Jon, commuted locally to college and graduated last spring as well. He is currently in grad school a state away, also got engaged (we also LOVE his fiancé), and will be married next spring. The transition for me with Jon was much harder! In the months leading up to his graduation last year, I had to work through a lot of grief. I had so many moments of overwhelming sadness and loss since Jon was the first of our children to move farther away. When he graduates from grad school, he will be getting married right after, so I knew life would never go back to being the same. We miss having him around so much and really enjoy when he comes home every few weekends. I know it’s mostly to see his fiancé, but we get to enjoy his company, too!

And now, we are on the cusp of another big change as our daughter gets ready to graduate from college and go off to grad school. With Sarah, it’s different than with Jon. The feelings of loss and grief are not nearly as strong. My heart knows what to expect now in some ways. With Sarah, I’m having to work through a tremendous amount of fear. This might sound sexist, but I worry about a 5’6” girl living in a big city more than a 6′ guy living in a college town. All the “what if’s” and possible scary and tragic situations she could find herself in -and our inability to protect her- are always knocking on the door of my mind. (And keeping negative, scary thoughts out isn’t always easy!)

I’m pretty sure the feelings of fear are more intense because Sarah is our ‘rainbow baby’. She was born less than a year after the birth and death of her only older sister, Therese, who was born with a genetic disorder. After such a tragic loss and our own loss of ignorance…children can be born with/have things happen that doctors can’t fix…we learned that we are not in control; things that break your heart can happen quickly and suddenly and leave your life shattered in pieces. (I’ve also experienced firsthand how God can put it all back together, for which I am truly grateful, but the fear of going through that painful shattering again is always there.)

My prayer lately is, “God, please don’t give me more than I can handle.” Doing the hard job of working through emotions isn’t easy. I have to work more on letting go of my older kids emotionally. It doesn’t just happen overnight, and I need to do it in a healthy way. Putting up walls and shutting down emotionally to try and self-protect against feelings of hurt isn’t helpful and just causes more problems over time.

Sometimes I feel angry as I watch my older crew plan out all the moving away, moving on, trips and adventures. These are all just normal feelings..or at least that’s what I tell myself…as a mom learning to let go. I sacrificed so much of myself to have a large family and stay home and care for them. They were my adventure and now it hurts that they are pushing away and leaving. (Going through this stage of life certainly makes me much more sympathetic for what I put my parents through!)

All moms give up a lot for their children..it’s part of being a mom. Going through this letting go process has me pondering that, just maybe, I gave up too much at times. Moms give and give and give…and when they have nothing left they often manage to give just a little more. As a member of the mom club I have certainly neglected myself on many an occasion. Sometimes the sacrifice is warranted. But, sometimes, I can get sucked into playing the martyr, and that isn’t any way to have a healthy balance in life.

I realize that I need things to look forward to for myself in an emotionally healthy way. Not out of bitterness or anger-”Fine, if they don’t need me then I’m going to do something fun without them!” Not out of entitlement-”Fine, if they are going to move on and have fun then I’m doing fun things too!” Not out of trying to avoid or “stuff” away my feelings of fear and sadness that I need to work through. Anything done in those ways won’t bring me true peace.

I find myself frequently bringing my feelings of fear and sadness to God over this process of letting go. I know that He will give me consolation and help me work through all of my conflicting emotions. I know that He will give me the words to help me be a support to my children as they navigate their way to independence. I can honestly say that teens and young adults certainly help to grow your prayer life because there are so many situations to pray about!

Change certainly isn’t all bad! I’m trying to keep my eyes from just focusing on those feelings of loss and fear. Yes, my role as a mom is changing. Yes, change is hard. But this time of life can be an opportunity to broaden my own world in a different way. I’m trying to find my new focus. I’m trying to see what God has in store to fill the newly emptied areas of my heart. As my kids get older and grow up, (and out), my focus and time need to adjust. It’s not an end to my mission, there’s just a change in the mission.

And someday, God willing, there will be grandbabies!!

I was thinking about Mary with this topic of change in mind. Mary raised and loved on her Son for 30 years. Then, for three years she followed Him and stayed connected in a different way. The physical break with her Son was extraordinarily painful at the Crucifixion, but then the resurrection happened. Even though things never went back to the Nazareth years, their relationship was deepened and is unending.

Mary’s focus changed, but she still had a mission. So do I. And, if this is the stage of life you’re experiencing, you still have a mission, too! We can ask for Mary’s intercession to help us have eyes to see all that God still has in store with us.

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,

plans for welfare and not for evil,

to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

 

What has been your biggest struggle during these years of letting go?

How has God opened new paths and broadened your world?

 

Categories
Domestic Church Ink Slingers Reading Sarah Reinhard

My Changed Reading Time

MyChangedReadingTime
It’s hard not to marvel at my changed reading time.
 
But wait, first, let me start at the beginning: I read.
 
I’ve accepted this about myself.
 
Surely, I have other hobbies. (Or maybe I just have a family. Does that count?)
 
But really, I read. It’s how I define myself, and it’s truly my favorite of the things I could list. It’s a hobby that has opened vistas for me, and you’ll find proof of it all over my house.
 
In the front room, subdivided into an office, there are overflowing bookshelves. In the office section, there’s another bookshelf, and baskets of books on my table/desk, and piles of books on my other shelf. In the kitchen, there’s a basket of current reads under the cupboards, by the breakfast bar. There are odd books left out (I blame the kids) and baskets of books and toys jumbled together (again, the kids). All of the kids have books in their rooms, in various states of organization (or disarray, as the case may be). And my room has a few books by the bed. And we mustn’t forget the bathrooms, though we don’t view them as much a library as some do. 
 
My purse is host to a whole library, thanks to the technology made available from my phone and my Kindle. That’s saved me from needing a backpack-sized purse for the “blankie book” I need to make sure I have with me at all times. (The book itself changes. The fact that I need one does not.)
 
These things are set. They’ve changed a bit over the years, but not by much.
 
What’s changed in my reading life is my reading time itself. It used to be wedged between nearly everything, and available in long stretches quite often. It used to be largely uninterrupted, unless I wanted it to be interrupted. It used to be about me and what I liked.
 
Now, I find that my reading time is part of a bigger picture. It involves other people in a way it never did before. Sometimes, those other people live in my house and they want me to be part of their reading time. They turn my reading time into a shared experience.
 
Other times, the other people are authors whose work I’m reviewing. They may be friends who have trusted me to read a book they’ve written. They may be strangers who reached out to me. They may be just the name on the cover, sent to me by a publisher or agent.
 
And then there are my reading friends, people who have become part of my reading time by their suggestions and their influence on how (and what) I read.
 
My reading time used to be mostly novels. Then, in grad school, it became mostly multiple assigned textbooks and business books at a time. I moved into reading to learn about things: my faith, some skill, random nonfiction. And then, with children came parenting books and children’s books, intentional middle grade and YA reads and revisiting old favorites.
 
Most recently, my reading time has turned into part of my job. (And, honestly, I never thought that could even be a reality in my life, so we’ll just have a shared jump-up-and-down moment together, shall we?) 
 
There are books I’ve read that I never would have picked up without the circumstances in my life. There are books I never would have enjoyed if I hadn’t grabbed them in desperation to escape the chaos of my home. (It’s a good chaos, mind you. But sometimes, I just want to read.)
 
My reading time has also changed because, well, I have changed. I’m older now, for one thing. I’ve read a lot more, and I’m more likely to just stop reading a book, no matter how good That Person said it would be or how much Certain Human said I should read it. 
 
I’ve been Catholic now for nearly two decades. I’ve been married for 15 and a mother for 14 of those. I’ve learned things beyond my various degrees and my different professional experiences. Life has interrupted my plans and taken me far beyond where I would have gone on my own.
 
And that, my friends, has only made my reading time better. ?
Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri

There is a Season …

I have occasionally seen people in some of my Catholic circles express concern over their inability to become involved or volunteer on any level within their parish. It’s great that many want to do something in their parish in some way, but often family obligations, time, or a lack of activities within a parish make getting involved difficult.

More often than not, the concerns I hear come from young families. Many are moms with young children. And there I think is the answer!

VolunteersNeeded(RaisedHands)_0If you are one of those people who would like to be more involved in your parish but feel that you don’t have the time to do so, take a step back and think about the season of life you are in. Were you more involved in a previous time? What has changed since then? Can you see a time when you might be able to be more involved once again? Look at your friends and other parish members. What do you have in common with them? Where do you differ in terms of children, occupation, or family situations? Try to put into perspective where you are and what you are capable of adding to your family life.

Over the course of a year we experience a change in seasons. At times, it feels like we are going to be stuck in winter forever, but eventually it gives way to spring. Just like the seasons in a year, our lives are a series of seasons. During some seasons we are able to give more of ourselves than in others.

A friend of mine told me once that when her children started school at our church’s elementary school she would often volunteer to help in the lunch room for those moms who were unable to do so because of work or other obligations. She told me she felt that since she was in a position to volunteer more that she had to, she could help out those moms who were not able to volunteer as much. Now all her kids are in school and she has returned to work part time and is back to volunteering at the minimum required for each family.

Another friend is single and finds that she has lots of time to help at her parish in the evenings and on weekends. She has started a Young Adult group at her parish and volunteers with the youth ministry. She’s also able to attend daily Mass once a week and help out with other events when they come up.

Several years ago I was part of our music ministry team at my parish, I was on a formation committee for a new women’s group, I was involved in our young adult group (met my husband there), and I was rehearsing with a separate choir preparing for a trip to Italy. As part of the music ministry I sometimes was asked to play for special masses and our young adult group often helped the parish out through volunteering at various events. There were weeks when I was at church almost every evening for something. During this time I was a single person, living in a city that was six hours from my family.

Another friend attends a parish where there is no group for moms to connect through. She feels like she could use a group like this for support, but she knows if she mentions it she would be asked to start one. At this season of her life she doesn’t feel like she is in a position to head something like this up. Not only does she have two young children, but she and her husband volunteer together for another ministry at their parish. So adding something else to her volunteer time isn’t in the cards for her at this time.

In more recent years, I have had to cut back on the involvement I am able to do at my parish. I stepped back from music ministry about six years ago and our Young Adult group eventually fizzled out. I did take an hour once a week in our Perpetual Adoration Chapel (which was such a blessing!) and I served on our Faith Formation Committee for a few years. But now as a mother of three young children and working out of the home full-time, I have had to more carefully discern what level of involvement makes the most sense for me at this time.

These are just a few examples from people I know personally. There could be many, many more. Maybe you have older children and you can volunteer at your parish more as a family, getting everyone involved. Maybe you are an empty-nester and/or retired and could help out in ways that younger families are unable to.

We’re all in different seasons of life and all able to volunteer on different levels as a result. Some can do more than others. Some families may only be able to keep the intentions of the parish in prayer while others may find ways to volunteer at a much more involved level. Either way, each family needs to discern the level that works for them and not compare themselves to anyone else.

Most importantly, I think it helps to step back and remember that if you are in one of those seasons where you can not devote the time you think you should to your parish, seasons change and one day you may be in a better position to do more. And when you are, you’ll be able to pick up more volunteer time to help out those families who are in one of those seasons where they can only do the bare minimum.

What season of life are you in? How does that translate for you in how you can volunteer and be involved in your parish?