The heavy, stagnant air pushed through our car as I rolled the windows down. It was a steamy Saturday morning in July with no breeze and overcast skies. On our way to run errands, my one-year-old son and I drove along the back road of our shoreline town. I quickly glanced over at the beach-goers setting up their chairs and umbrellas for the day. A group of teenage girls caught my eye and I suddenly found my mind wandering.
Wasn’t that just me down on that beach? What did that feel like, before I had an extension of myself toddling around in the world? I couldn’t fully remember. The only emotions I felt were the memories of feeling untroubled and carefree.
It was in that moment that I recognized the severity of the fear I’d been wrestling with since becoming a mom. The first year of motherhood served as a kind of fire for me. The whole experience was intense, yet beautiful. I felt the stiff layers around my heart melting away as the dark rusty corners were brightened and refined.
Never before had I experienced such ambivalence. All at once I felt I could burst with love, protect with ferocity, and scream with restlessness. I struggled to accept this as normal, though deep inside I knew it was. The biggest stress for me, however, was the constant worry. I found myself acutely aware of all the things that could happen to our child, to us, or to our family. Life felt more fragile than ever before. All the pain I knew I could not protect our son from became overwhelming at times. I was in bondage to the unknown of what the future may hold.
Often I’d remind myself that we live in a broken and beautiful world. On the hardest days, choosing to start a family felt like willingly signing up for an extra dose of pain. I knew I had to let go, but I found my proverbial fingernails dug into a shaky sense of control. At the end of the day, isn’t suffering the one thing we all live trying to avoid? As though the inevitable grief of this life isn’t enough, we waste so much of our energy anticipating it, ignoring it, or trying to escape it.
Over time I began to understand that the more I relinquished the self-appointed duty to protect my son from all trouble, the more freedom I felt. Not only would it be a vain effort to guard him against all tragedy, it would most certainly hinder his development into becoming the best version of himself. Difficulties and hardship are what tend to shape the most resilient and courageous parts of us. Don’t we learn most when we simply sit in the silence of our losses and battles? This new pattern of thought seemed foreign, yet revolutionary.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally consider the infinite list of tragedies that could occur in and around our family, but I began to acknowledge that I was powerless to stop most of them from happening. What’s more, I learned that my worry would only teach my son to worry. Did I want to raise a valiant man or one who let the fear of pain stand in the way of leading a full life?
The answer was obvious. Therefore, instead of running from fear, I began to lean into it. I’d tread through life in spite of fear and let my son watch me do it – an imperfect mother illustrating what it means to live in an imperfect world. As I continually learn to drop the weight of raising our children in today’s complex culture, I discover the opportunities to pick up the beauty that is so readily available in every moment.
What if we all did this – embracing both the beauty and pain of life while consciously setting our fear of losing control aside? How freeing would that be? What kind of parents would we be, and, more importantly, what kind of generation would we raise? I don’t have to think back to the carefree days of my youth – I can live in that sense of freedom right now, even amidst greater responsibility.