Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mommy Angst

Motherhood is bittersweet. No one can clearly prepare a new parent for the wistful parts of the journey. Before we have children, we know that some heartache awaits us. But who knew that our children’s little traumas would hurt us so much?

There’s a saying among mothers: “little kids, little problems – big kids, big problems.” I used to fear that my kids’ struggles would only grow and intensify as they grew older. You mean it gets worse? Harder?

When Geneva (who is now 12 years old) was in nursery school, she struggled over issues such as what song would be sung in school on any particular day. Would it be the song about the baby ducks swimming away from the mother duck?! If so, everyone at school would hear her panicked cries over duck separation anxiety. I remember that we worried about whether she’d be able to keep her pants dry for 2 ½ hours at school. In kindergarten, she was afraid of the loud flush of the school toilets. I chuckle now, thinking about how we stressed over this toilet issue. We also worried that she’d forget to put on her coat before heading outside to eat lunch. And I wondered if some of the much bigger 2nd or 3rd graders would mow her down on the trike path.

Usually, I know what to do when faced with parenting’s little dilemmas. But now that Geneva has officially entered “tween-hood,” I’m finding more and more that I am not always sure what to do. Along with this uncertainty, I’m feeling angst about my role and about our mother/daughter relationship.
Last week, Geneva spent a week at outdoor education camp. We had never been separated from each other for more than a night. While I was happy to let her go and experience an opportunity to live and cope independently (not to mention experience the wonderful curriculum), I found living without her for that week to be more bitter than it was sweet. I’m still not sure which of the two of us suffered more anxiety. I wrote her a letter to open each day. I hid a couple surprises in her suitcase. What and odd feeling, not knowing how she was doing each day. Of course the goal of parenting is to teach your child how to need you less and less. We’re supposed to prepare them for the day when they will fly the coop. But, I didn’t exactly enjoy this preview. I couldn’t WAIT to pick her up on Friday. And when I did spot her at pick-up, I saw the biggest, prideful smile.

This week, Geneva’s first pet is dying. Parsley the Hamster has perhaps experienced the most love and attention of any black bear hamster in recorded history. All of her care and the money for her needs have been provided by Geneva. She dotes on her daily, but Parsley’s still dying. And there’s nothing I can do to fix it. Any mother would gladly take on her daughter’s heartbreak to keep her from experiencing such sadness. If only it worked that way. Watching my children struggle may just be my biggest challenge as their mother. Knowing that I can’t fix it, and often even worse, that I shouldn’t fix it, and knowing that they need to learn to handle their own difficulties, I have learned that I need to step back at the moment that I want most to step forward. I remind myself that my gradual letting go will help these three increasingly resilient children grow into capable adults. Does this realization lessen my Mommy Angst? Not so much.