“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” –Rumi
For the past nine months, my three-year-old daughter has been taking me back to parenting school.
The irony, that this amount of time is about the length of an average pregnancy, has not escaped me.
I know it is a gestation and a rebirth of sorts, for me as a mother. For us, and how we understand, and relate to, each other.
But as an attachment theory and parenting “expert,” this re-schooling is not only deeply humbling. It has also been quite disconcerting.
Out of respect for my daughter and her process, I will withhold the details of all that is happening here.
Suffice it to say that it’s an intense puzzle that I have been trying hard to put together, so that I can help her, and our whole family system, become more regulated at these specific times.
I have not been alone in this puzzle-piecing. My husband (also a therapist), and even our very maternal older daughter, have been puzzling it over as well.
I’m not new to parenting a three-year-old. Our eight-year-old daughter was three once, and she was adept at pushing some buttons for me at that age.
And developmentally, I know that three-year-old behavior can be passionately strong.
And yet, this situation? This is different for me.
When the meltdown-with-no-solution creeps in, I am bewildered as a parent. There are times when, seeing my daughter in such obvious distress for such an extended period of time, I am unable to quell the tears that silently meander down my face.
Don’t get me wrong. Our younger daughter, like her sister, is as beautiful, loving, funny, bright, and sweet a human being as I have ever had the pleasure and privilege of knowing. She liquefies my heart, and makes my world a brighter, more meaningful, more fun place to live in.
I am deeply honored every day to be raising her, and loving her every step of the way.
Yet, I have tried everything in my toolkit. I’ve read every parenting book, perused every parenting theory. Counseled hundreds of families myself. Listened to every piece of advice. Listened to my intuition.
Despite believing that I am doing all I can to help her in the moment, I feel like I am somehow failing my child.
As parents, and perhaps particularly as mothers, we are driven to provide physical and emotional nurturance to our young children. Biologically, we know that this is imperative for their survival.
Whether we have an infant we are unable to comfort in the middle of the night, an ill two-year-old who is slow to improve, or an elementary-schooler we are watching deal with the ongoing sadness of feeling excluded in some way, it can be deeply painful – even physically painful – to feel unable to bring comfort to our offspring.
This is part of growing up. It is part of maturing as an individual and as a parent. And wow, is it hard to do.
Through these new lessons my daughter is gifting me, I’ve discovered that my role as a parent in these times is not only to remain big enough to create a contained space for her. Not only to remain present and calm. Not only to breathe, and open my heart, and accurately reflect her feelings, and keep her safe, and let my empathy flow.
It is also, to sometimes have no idea what to do, and to sit in the discomfort of not knowing.
Bearing witness to my child’s emotional unraveling is part of my daily parenting practice right now. I do so, most days, with both my mother hat and my therapist hat on at once. I do so with my heart as open as I can bear it to be. I do so knowing that this is her journey to take in the world.
And it is also our journey together – through the hills and valleys of our relationship. As we continue to build our deep connection to one another, my unfathomable love for this little human being grows exponentially.
I am not only humbled daily because I seemingly cannot do anything to help her at those times.
I am humbled by the depth of emotion I feel for my child and how she opens up my world in a way I couldn’t even have fathomed existed.