The feeling in my legs disappeared – dragging the color in my face along with it – as I watched my adult kids and husband perch themselves on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
An ache filled my womb, now 18 years barren, which dispersed fear like medicine in an IV. Risk-taking is not in my DNA, so seeing everyone I love one wind gust away from certain death turned my stomach.
After capturing the moment on my iPhone, I mustered up some courage and cat crawled my way over to join my family. It's surreal having a front row seat to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Gazing into the vastness is indescribable. Sitting mere inches from a 6,000-foot drop is strangely blissful and nauseating; and mostly a bad idea.
Nonetheless, inhaling the magic of such a massive display of beauty with offspring in tow set the stage for cavernous insight into the past 22 years of my parenting journey. It was as if the walls of the crater beckoned me to embrace the emotional connection point where the miracle of giving birth and staring into an abyss intersect.
Whether you are pregnant, cuddling a newborn, in the midst of grade school years, riding the waves of tweens and teens, or trying to accept an empty nest, perhaps these whispers will settle in your heart and inspire your journey.
Like the canyon, there are no foreseeable boundaries along the journey of raising children. Holding a newborn is overwhelming both in love and responsibility. Watching our kids learn to walk, speak, read, play, create, interact with the world provides limitless awe and joy. Witnessing the Houdini-like evolution towards independence is radical. How humbling to know our small role in bringing up our kids merely sets in motion a generational pull longer, farther, wider, and deeper than our eyes will ever see.
Regardless of the current childrearing stage we are wading through, our kids are always on the edge of something new. In the early years, anticipating the next phase is exciting. As kids get older, new fears and stresses have a tendency to weigh down our delight.In this case, as I watched my grown kids literally dangle their feet over the rim of a massive gorge, I witnessed the real truth of all three being on the brink of living on their own. Permanently. I have no idea when or how this happened. What I do know is, rather than fast forwarding and/or worrying about what comes next, the blessing lies in taking in the view right where our kids are at. Living for the moments that take our breath away at every stage allows us to pause and savor the mixed bag of here and now.
Parenting is full of unknowns. We're faced with choices every day about how to best care for, instruct, and protect our kids. Many of these decisions we cast into the wind on a bubble gently blown through a tiny wand hoping the end result lands on solid ground before bursting. Truth is, only God knows what lay ahead. We do our best, both in preparing our kids and then trusting in the outcome. Though we fear what we can’t see, maybe the never-ending horizon of motherhood spares us from viewing something even scarier on the other side.
A little fence over a mile deep crater seems utterly pointless. Anyone can swing a leg up and over and find themselves face down in the Colorado River. But, these feeble barricades serve a purpose in certain areas of the park, providing a safe view for those too scared to stand on an unprotected brim. If the park restricted access to all areas of the canyon except from designated sections alone, spectators would miss out on the splendor from countless vantage points.Boundaries are necessary and healthy in certain instances for our kids. They are particularly helpful while we teach them the laws of nature and foster their well-being. Restrictions can also keep our children from thriving and learning from their mistakes. Knowing the when and how of boundary-setting is a great challenge for us as parents. Eventually our kids need to set their own limits. If fear drives us to continuously protect them, we hamper their ability to figure out what works for them, accept defeat/disappointment, and manage life on their own.
The canyon is gargantuan; difficult to truly comprehend. But hiking down a few hundred feet reveals a world of flourishing plant life, scurrying animals, and colorful geology – aspects hidden from view unless we trek beneath the ridge.Same goes with our kids. We see the surface – demeanor, appearance, attitude – while underneath lies dreams, hopes, fears, insecurities, joys, unspoken emotions. The soul of our child is hidden unless we delve beneath the veneer through genuine communication. The quality of questions we ask, investments made in supporting their pursuits, interest taken in emotional welfare all create for us a window into the life within.
Chances are a fall into the canyon doesn’t end well. The lucky ones survive if the descent is marked with gradual grades rather than a sheer drop-off. Parenting is hard. Period. We make countless mistakes, feel hopeless and lost in certain situations, and worry too much.Burying guilt over our failures, stuffing down our despair, and drilling doubt into our psyche are all actions which can take root in our soul. In doing so, we risk preventing these negative feelings from ever emerging to the healing light of day. I’ve learned this the hard way by jumping into emotional pits and hoping for the best. Thankfully I’ve been able to climb my way out over the years, but I know I would have been a better mother in certain seasons with a healthier approach.
Googling pictures of the Grand Canyon results in hundreds of images capturing the glorious cavern glowing like a box of Crayolas, rainbows aplenty and glistening sunsets. When you plan a trip you expect and hope to see the same.
As our family gazed into the gorge for the very first time, the sky was grey and dumping a monsoon of rain. Much of the cavern was hidden beneath clouds and shadows replaced brilliant colors. But when you're taking in such an enigma, the awe outweighs the expectation. Our spirits were moved as we stared slack-jawed into the monstrosity; the rain only added to the beauty.Often times my mothering experience leaves me soaked to the bone from the storms of life. This happens when I allow expectations to dictate my reactions. Having expectations is a recipe for disappointment. Raising a family is a haphazard affair and the more we choose to roll with things and be wowed by the journey the more spectacular the experience.
I’ve spent too many years – even still – looking down and feeling scared and paralyzed. Facing our fears means keeping our heads up and focusing on things which bring us peace and comfort. Even something as simple as gazing into the eyes of our children can wash away the most debilitating fear. This in turn gives us strength to endure those moments we find ourselves on the edge of something traumatic, pressing, uncomfortable. Looking out around us opens our eyes to blessings which may otherwise go unnoticed.
The Grand Canyon dwarfs everything in its path. Even the breathtaking river at the bottom looks insignificant. If we do an inventory of our daily struggles and trials of parenting we will find many are woefully small in the grand scheme of raising a family. Sometimes the biggest mountain we have to climb lies between our ears, as our thoughts create virtual realities filled with stress and strain.It takes mindfulness and determination to accept there is something much greater than us at work in every situation. If we allow the big picture to grab our attention, the prickly details are conveniently lost in the grandeur.
Standing on a precipice with my adult children reminded me that the chasm caused by physical separation runs deep, but the connection through heartstrings still grips you with majestic force. When you’ve parented for over two decades, having crossed the threshold from hands-on to hands-off, the essence of what love has to offer, both divine and earthly, inverts your perspective.