When our kids are little, we spend hours worrying about them getting lost.
A trip to a supermarket or a walk down a busy street puts us into high alert. The grasp of their hand and the fierceness in our eyes becomes intense; we are in full Mama Bear mode.
As a mom of young children, I had countless nightmares in which this basic fear was expressed. It came in many forms, but it always involved frantically searching for my kids.
Sometimes I would dream that I had parked my car in a multi-level garage with a huge spiral driveway that went on indefinitely. I would realize that I not only had forgotten where I had parked, but also to pick up one of my kids somewhere. I would roam up and down that crazy spiral, looking for my car while panicking that my child was left helpless.
Other times, I would dream I was in a crowded space and would look down to see that the little one next to me was no longer there. Looking into the sea of people, I would feel a sense of helplessness as I aimlessly searched for my lost child. There were many more variations of this dream, which always woke me up in a sweaty frenzy and the reminder of my role of protector.
Talk to any mom and these nightmares are universal.
The strange thing about having teenage children is that we become used to the freedom and independence that they have, but the fear of them getting lost does not go away. Some how, their young adult insecurities trigger all of the fears that we had as moms of young children as well as our own teenage memories of those exciting but highly uncertain and often overwhelming, times.
The “getting lost” is more abstract than it was before. Sometimes it comes in the form of a heart-breaking relationship and other times it is in the form of painful mistakes, but it is always about getting lost in search of Self.
As I witness this in my kids now, I know that I can’t go into Mama Bear mode, charge in to make things right and ward off all the threats. The thing is, I know in my heart that my kids will find the way themselves. The hard part is letting them figure that out on their own.
As moms, we are often reminded that in many circumstances, none of our heroic maneuvers have the power they once had.
Whereas we moved as one with our children when they were little, these struggles are now theirs alone. The hard realization is that when they are lost, only they can find their way. Suddenly we are put in the position of having to stand back and trust that they will be okay instead of imposing our might to make sure it is so. We have to believe that their experiences will ultimately make them stronger and more resilient.
I am learning to accept that one of the greatest skills we can foster in our children is resilience.
To be resilient, however, we have to change what our obsolete, overblown image of this is. In the past, I would have conjured up some sort of magnificent, extraordinary strength that meant resilience. What I know now is that resilience is much more messy than that.
We actually build resilience in the moments that we are at our weakest.
Resilience is the ability to stand in the middle of the mess and still have the desire to learn, grow and move forward into a future that may look very different than what we had imagined. Resilience is not wasting our time wishing that things would be different but instead using these energies to forge forward with our heads held high and our hearts opened wide.
The worst feeling for a mom is to witness her child suffering in any way and even though we may have had what looked like super-powers in the past, sweeping in to kiss it and make it all better, the truth is, we are as vulnerable to reality as anyone.
At some point our children move beyond us and life circumstances move in without regard to who we are.
What we are left with is the choice to crumble or to grow.
Seeing my children suffer is unbearable to me but I am beginning to see the potential hidden gift that is beneath the struggle—the opportunity for them to become more resilient as well as more compassionate.
Very much connected to our resilience is our capacity for compassion.
Our understanding of exactly what it means to be human becomes much more forgiving and expansive and we are given the gift of moving beyond the limitations of our current conditions and beliefs.
My commitment now, as a mother to my 16, 18 and 21 year-old children, is to trust that they will find the path on their own with their heads held high and their hearts open wide.
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Editorial Assistant: Yaisa Nio / Editor: Renée Picard