When it was my turn to ask for prayer, to share what was happening in my life, I began to cry. The pain and the fear mingled with shame and regret and threatened to overwhelm my heart. I poured out my story as tears slid off my chin. Around the room, friends nodded and offered words of encouragement. When the last amen was whispered, we gathered for snacks and a chance to catch up. This is when the miracle happened. One after another, friends pulled me close and shared their own story. My son… My daughter… I know… You are not alone…
This season of my life has helped explain a phenomenon I’ve noticed for decades but never been able to understand. I’ve watched women who thrived as moms walk away from community, as their children age. Often the same mom who ran VBS or led the children’s ministry at the local church will withdraw as their children move into adulthood. For a long time, I thought this was simply the cycle of life, but now I know there is more going on.
In my own life, raising adults through the transitional years (18-23) has been the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced. My children have challenged everything I know or care about. They have worn us to the very bone, and they have pushed us beyond the edge. These cherub-faced wonders did not really rebel in high school when I was prepared for it, but as they transitioned into adulthood they brought us to our knees. These are not terrible kids. These are bright loving, capable people who are simply figuring life out.
Part of the challenge is my expectation. I Parented with a capital P. I committed to their growth and their development as humans as though it were my job. I spent an entire decade in a beige minivan taking them to enriching activities, paid a small fortune for sports fees, trips, and musical instruments. We prioritized mental and relational health. I did not neglect their moral and spiritual formation and tried to live out the values and beliefs I preached. They did not just grow up in the wild, I tried to shape their hearts and their lives.
And then there is my regret and fear. I did try to parent well, to live with them well, and shape their little lives. I also failed. Failed a lot. By word, action, and deed I failed them. I was not enough. There are very few things I wouldn’t do differently if I could. Hindsight brings clarity and there are so many things I would change about the ways we engaged or didn’t. And the doubts… did my decision to go to school, or work, or stay home hurt them? There are fights I wish I’d taken on, and so many I wish I hadn’t.
For me, the underlying issue comes down to shame and guilt. Can I embrace them in their mess? Or does my own shame and fear cause me to push them away? Can I love them unconditionally? Or are there places I just can’t go? We’ve certainly been stretched through this season, and we continue to grow. I am lucky. I have lots of older moms in my life who can offer perspective and grace as I fumble my way through. And, I also have my own story. No one was a bigger mess than I at this age. It gives me hope to trust that they will find their way, just as I did.
So now, I look for these older moms. The ones who pull away from community and hover on the edges. Sometimes I think we need a group just for them, something like Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) only for moms of adults… Instead of providing crafts and daycare, we need to pull them close and whisper I know… Me too…
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