Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and it brings to mind a story of gratitude. I remember taking my then sixteen-year-old on an international journey two years ago. Out of my husband and I, I had drawn what was considered by most to be the “long straw” -the chosen parent to show her an incredible adventure, expose her to the world, and teach her the lessons only this kind of trip could.
The fact is, I was terrified. I had bad dreams, I fantasized about bowing out, I talked about it in my own therapy. Why, you may ask?
Truth be told, I was out of my traveling league. I had visited international destinations before, studied abroad even, but it was always with a group or at least another adult, never just me and a vulnerable, sleep deprived teenager looking to me to lead. I was not the navigator in the family; my whole life, a street or town I’d visited a hundred times would invariably stop me in my tracks, confused. Even though I knew some french, thanks to the aforementioned study abroad, I was always gripped by an inexplicable lack of self confidence when I tried to use it. One sideways or disapproving glance from a Parisienne and I shrunk inside, feeling two inches tall. How could this version of myself possibly be the “take-the-world-by-the-tail”, “I’ve got this don’t you worry about a thing” mom I knew I had to be for my girl?
Fast forward to day one – We were both suffering mightily from jet lag and fear we wouldn’t be able to find the meal we both desperately needed. We had been sharing the navigation duties and finally found the right metro platform- only to see it covered by a huge metal gate and the words “Ferme indefinitement”- “Closed indefinitely”. I had no clue as to how to reroute. We wouldn’t get to our tourist destination, pick up our reserved tickets, or have breakfast as far as we could see.
We burst into tears, the both of us. My daughter yelled irritably something about how I was supposed to be the adult here. I felt a large weight, and sadness, settle into my stomach, and
That’s when it hit me- I was just as vulnerable as she was. And I wasn’t willing to admit it.
We are so vulnerable as parents. Vulnerable to the painful ways we were parented, to our own dreams of parenting that, try as we might, just don’t fit into reality, vulnerable to mistakes with the one person or people our cherishing knows no bounds- our children.
When I allowed myself to feel the vulnerability that had been hanging out for some time, it hurt.
I asked my teen for a time out, there in the Paris metro. And I let that vulnerability sink in. I took several deep breaths. I allowed the waves of emotions to come up and I tried not to judge them. I let the word Forgiveness form in my mind. I let the tears spill a bit (honestly, all day if you asked my lovely travel companion).
When it became OK to encourage myself, I could offer encouragement to my teen.
As my good friend Anne said to me once: “I’m married, and I stay married, because even though I don’t know how or why, I think I’m my most human as a wife and a mother. This is something I need to know how to do.” I couldn’t agree more. There, in the swamps of mental and emotional exhaustion, I realized how human my daughter and I were, and how grateful I was for what we DID have-each other.
I am unspeakably grateful for vulnerability, parenting, and mistakes.
When when we are ok with our blemishes and imperfections, our dreams that don’t quite make it, and our emotions as we parent, we are our most human. And sometimes this is how teens reach us. They’re constantly running headlong into new experiences, and if we give ourselves permission to join them in making mistakes, laughing at ourselves, or apologizing, we’re diving, together, into being most human.
Join me in being grateful for when you are your most human. When did it happen? What were you feeling?
If this happens to you, too, and you would like some support for your parenting, give me a call at Restoring Relationships. I know what you’re going through. And, I’m parenting right alongside you!
Photo by: Samuel Austin, Unsplash