Twenty years ago when my oldest child entered this world, I had no idea how much it would change me. I couldn’t believe that I could love a tiny little creature so much, especially when all it did was burp, fart, eat, poop and sleep. Every now and then it would wiggle in my arms and open those enormous blue eyes and stare up at me, perhaps wiggle it’s nose or give a little smile and my heart would melt. But it wasn’t anything monumental that demanded that I spend so much time watching this tiny little person as much as I did. I marveled at his fingers and toes, not at what he did with them, only that he had them and they were oh so adorable. How crazy is that? I mean we all have toes and fingers, so why should I marvel that my son had them as well. Isn’t that just the norm?
I’d sit and watch him sleep in my arms, loathe to put him down, not because he might wake up but because holding him made me feel so estatic and complete. I’d gently rub my lips against his head while I smelt him, yes smelt him! That new baby smell that cannot be bottled or reproduced, it’s wonderful and addictive and I just could not get enough of it. His clothes smelt of it, he smelt of it and if I held on to him long enough, I smelt of it.
As he grew he began to wiggle more, then roll and finally crawl. That new baby smell left and was replaced by a toddle with attitude. ‘Let me do it!’ became his mantra.
Making a peanut butter sandwich, “Let me do it!” he cry as I handed over a butter knife to him and helped him, against his will, to spread the peanut butter on the bread. Making cereal for his breakfast, I’d have to pour milk into a cup and allow him to pour the pre-measured milk onto his cereal. He was also so independant, I couldn’t put his shoes on for him. It was a crime to even suggest that I’d have to help him untangle his shirt that he’d twisted into a knot, the arms tangled through the neck hole and back into itself. I’d try to tell him how to untangle it and get daggers shot at me.
Every attempt to help him was met with an attitude that meant ‘You want to help me because you think I can’t, but your wrong. I don’t need your help. I’m not incompetent.’
I think my oldest child taught me that I didn’t have to do everything for him, and it’s a good thing too because when his sister was born 2 years later she was the exact opposite of her brother. “Help me!” she’d wine as I made her put her own shoes on. “Help me!” she’d cry when I told her to spread her own peanut butter on her sandwich. I knew what a child her age was capable of, thanks to my first born, and because of that I didn’t moly coddle her. I made her learn to stand on her own two feet.
If she’d been my first child, I think quite honestly that I would have been one of those Mom’s shoving spoonfuls of food into their 6 year old child’s mouth, just because I didn’t want them to spill any. I’d be a helicopter Mom of the worst type.
But my first born taught me that children can rise to a challenge and even thrive when given the opportunity to shine, and that affected the expectations I had of my other child.
My youngest was born and I had the same expectations of the other two, but that all changed when he was 13 months old and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Suddenly I wasn’t expecting my son to spread the peanut butter on his own sandwich, I was wondering if he’d ever be able to eat a sandwich. I didn’t worry about if he’d ask for help when he tangled his shirt while dressing, but whether he’d even be able to dress himself.
As he grew I realized that there were so many other things that would be milestones for him, other than the first time he sat or crawled, made his own food or dressed himself.
My youngest first great accomplishment was the day he held his head up unsupported and gave me a smile. It was the first time he lifted his head without the help of someone else.
It was such a simple achievement, and while not many others would understand, it was a huge moment in his life.
Now my children range from 20 to 15, and my role as the Mom that is there for them every day, holding their hand and guiding them through and supporting them through each step in their life is done.
It’s time for my kids to teach me yet again how to be the Mom they need me to be.
So far I’ve learned how to give my kids the space they need to explore and strive for themselves, I’ve learned how to gently push a child to meet their potential and lastly I’ve learned that even though you may celebrate alone, every triumph, no matter how small it may seem to others is worth celebrating!
What will they teach me now? Now that my hand holding days are done, and I have to give them the space to take those first steps out into the world.
I’ll have to switch from guiding them and helping them, to offering them advice when the ask for it. I have already been shown that when they come to me to ask for my thoughts on something, that if I fall back into the Mom of a young child mode, telling them how to fix something or telling them how I think it should be done, my words will fall on deaf ears. Now when they ask me about something I have to keep it as an adviser, and understand that even though I might impart some great words of wisdom on them, it doesn’t mean that they are going to actually follow them.
I just have to trust that I’ve given them the tools that they need to enter the world and be the best human that they can be.
My children taught me how to help them grow, and now they have to teach me how to let them go.