Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Growing into my own adulthood

It's funny how milestones can mess with your brain. Eldest is the same person today as she was last week (when she was -- ahem! -- still a minor), but there's this weird thing going on in my head that sounds kind of like this:

Omigosh.  All these years I've been working toward raising kids into adults, and... well... omigosh. It's done. I mean, it's not -- but it is. How...?

I'm so articulate, unedited.

Somewhere in my drafts folder there's a post I've been working on for a year and a half about how parenting can be frustrating because it lacks a sense of accomplishment and closure. I kept hoping I'd generate some kind of helpful insight out of that, but suddenly I find I an adult child, and my youngest has made his first communion. Huh.

*         *         *          *

If you met my competent, capable Eldest today, you would not know that when she was three she was capable of two-hour, purple-in-the-face tantrums. Several times a day. I hope I don't embarrass her by telling you this, because this story is actually about me, not her. Those tantrums were... trying. No matter how resourceful I was, there was no miracle fix for the problem. I had to live with it, live through it, grow by dealing with it -- or go crazy.

One day when my daughter was in meltdown mode on the sidewalk in a very public place, after a very long while (and a lot of silent prayer) I said to her, as mildly as possible, "When you learn to put all that determination to work for good, you are going to be a very strong woman!"

I said it for myself, of course. After all, she was only three. What could she understand about being a strong woman?

Silly me, I thought my problem was my child's behavior, when the real issue was my feelings: I hated my lack of control over the situation, and was mortified by the thought of what others might think of my parenting. Life got a lot better when I realized that a huge part of becoming an adult is learning to distinguish between reacting to a situation and responding to others.

Reacting is about me: my fears, my feelings, my background, my weaknesses.

Responding is oriented to others: their needs, their feelings, their problems and concerns.

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On another day in early momhood I went grocery shopping at the bottom of the hill. It's a big hill, with a step-street of 130 killer steps. When it came time to go home Eldest couldn't -- couldn't -- walk any further. I looked at her in disbelief, but knew this was non-negotiable. And so with 22 pounds of Big Guy (age one) in the backpack, I picked up my 31-pound three year old and the four bags of groceries, and I talked myself up those 130 steps. I exclaimed to my kids, "Do you see how amazing your mother is? Did you know she was this strong? Can you believe your mommy is this wonderful?"

I was talking to myself, of course. That's another part of becoming an adult: learning that self-talk matters. There are times you're the only one who's gonna give that pep talk. And beating yourself up is no better than letting someone else beat you up. It's better to be encouraging.

A week after the stair incident someone said something to Eldest about me. With big eyes and in utter seriousness my daughter affirmed, "My mother is amazing and strong!"

*         *         *          *

Last week I told Eldest I didn't truly feel like an adult until the day I held her in my arms. I think that's because adulthood has a lot to do with learning what it means to love.

You're not really an adult until you think ahead to the impact your actions have on others.

You're not really an adult until you're willing to take on burdens because you care about more than yourself.

And I suspect you're not really an adult until you value others more than you value your fears.

I'm still thinking about it. And learning.


  1. Happy Birthday to Eldest! Our youngest was of similar temperament at that 2-3 age and we never thought it would have a good ending. But, at 25, he's turned out to be this remarkable, mild-mannered person. I'm so happy for you that the same happened with her. [I love that she was listening and passed it on that you are amazing and strong:)]

  2. You are such a great writer....just wanted to say that.

  3. so many great thoughts here, many things to ponder on for certain.

  4. Thanks Julia! I'll remember "When you learn to put all that determination to work for good, you are going to be a very strong woman!" next time we are in the middle of a tantrum. Kelly