I had always imagined that I would one day be a wise old lady, imparting profound words of wisdom about life and teaching my children how to navigate through it. After twelve years of motherhood, I now realize that I have learned more from my children than I ever could have imagined. They have become my greatest teachers.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I did whatever I could to learn about the big job ahead of me – motherhood. I took Lamaze classes and bought all of the latest books on pregnancy, sleep training, parenting philosophies and childhood illnesses. After many months of preparation, I went to what would be my last OBGYN appointment only to learn that the baby had flipped himself to a breach position and that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. I would need a c-section the next day. At that moment, all of my planning and preparation for the way I wanted this birth to happen was down the tubes – no Lamaze breathing, no natural childbirth, no week to finish work and prepare for his arrival.
Similarly, after he arrived, all of my plans to mold and shape this little bundle of joy into a well-scheduled, sleep-through-the-night baby were also quickly forgotten. No feeding schedules, no regular nighttime routines, no sleeping through the night were in our future. Up to this point in my life, I worked hard in school and got good grades, worked hard in my job and got good performance reviews, and worked hard to keep my life well-planned, setting goals for myself and achieving them. But this new role, motherhood, was going to be different. The first lesson that I learned from my son was that despite my best efforts and best-laid plans, I was not in control.
The next lesson came quickly as well. Much to my surprise, I learned that my role as a mom was not to shape and mold my children into the people I wanted them to be. Instead, I would have a much different, more passive role in their development. I have learned that my job is to love and nurture them, keep them safe from harm and simply watch them grow. Parenting is like planting a garden. We can water our plants to help them grow, add fertilizer to make them strong, and put them in the sunlight to help them thrive, all while trying to protect them from the dangers of hungry birds, animals and insects, but we cannot determine what type of plant will grow. That is up to the seed itself.
Then came the most intriguing lesson of all. My children are chock-full of great insight and wisdom. All I have to do is be sure to listen. When my son was four years old, he would cry and cling to my legs each morning at drop off, pleading not to leave him. This routine broke my heart every day, until one day he looked into my eyes while I was giving him one last tight hug good-bye before the tears would begin to flow, and he said, “I’m OK mommy. Just go.” It was then that I realized through his simple, but incredibly insightful words that it was me who was having a difficult time letting him go and that he would be OK without me.
These words of wisdom from our children are everywhere if we just pay attention to them. One rainy morning, on our way to school, I remarked to my children, “What a yukky day!” My littlest child quickly replied, “It’s not yukky, it’s just raining.” I have never looked at a rainy day quite the same since then.
More recently, my seven year old asked me if her Nana would be OK after she was diagnosed with cancer. I replied, “I certainly hope so.” My son then piped in, “You know that you can get very sick from even a common cold.” To which my youngest child thought for a moment and then said, “Oh . . . (pause) . . . what’s for lunch?” This may sound like a silly conversation, but I found it to be quite profound. As I listened to this exchange, I thought to myself, what a great way to look at life – to recognize that things happen which are completely out of our control and that often all that we can do is simply hope for the best and try not to worry so much about that which we cannot change, but instead live in the moment. If only our minds could stay as clear and uncomplicated as the mind of a child.
As adults, we often dismiss our children’s insights as naïve and think that they are simply unable to comprehend the significance of the situation. But instead, I think that we, as adults, often spend too much time worrying about all of the possibilities of what might be, making everything so complicated, and forgetting to notice what is right in front of us.
Our children have a magical way of staying connected to themselves and to the world around them. We can all learn from them how to once again look at life with eyes untainted by judgment, cynicism and worry, to let go of our need to control what is or what will be and, instead, to live fully in each moment and enjoy the simple things that can be so amazing and so beautiful if we take the time to notice them.
**One of the most beautiful essays I have read about parenting is All My Babies Are Gone Now, by Anna Quindlen. She writes from the perspective of having already lived through the ups and downs of mothering young children, and her insights looking back at those years are powerful. She has inspired me to think more about parenting and about what parenthood is really all about. Please check out her thoughts on parenthood by clicking here.