I cannot sleep tonight.
On my first day of vacation, I was woken by a phone call.
A friend lost her teenage daughter to suicide.
There was a guttural, animalistic scream that came from somewhere inside of me.
A panicked thought of my own teenage daughters was replaced by relief, as I remembered that they were with me, safely asleep in the next room.
I had to tell my twin girls that one of their oldest friends was gone—and that her sister had lost her twin.
For the rest of the day, they held hands.
I obsess over how to ensure this never happens to them.
How to ensure this never happens to me.
Protecting our children from the fear of imagined harm drives us as mothers. When they are little, we shield them from the world.
We dress them to keep them warm.
We feed them to keep them healthy.
We protect the safety of their sleep.
We choose what we read to them, what they watch.
We make decisions for them—and as difficult as it seems at times, it’s really easy.
We control their world, undisputed.
Then, they start making their own decisions—and it becomes complicated.
We lose control. We must now share the responsibility for their safety.
We fight over their choices. Rather, we fight when their choices do not coincide with ours.
Have you ever force-fed a child?
I tried once. It was sick and scary.
I had to physically overpower my daughter, while she screamed and spit out the food.
The stories of my grandmother’s suffering when she could not feed her hungry children during World War II permeated my own childhood. I could not let my daughter leave the table without eating, unconsciously repeating my own childhood stories of power struggles over food.
Have you ever fought with your children over what is appropriate clothing against the cold?
As they grow, the fights evolve—curfews and the kind of company they keep.
We fight with our children, driven by the unconscious fear of the unspeakable: that something may happen to them. Something that would devastate our world.
What happens when harm arrives to our children?
We are responsible. We are guilty. Inadequate. Bad mothers. Not good enough. Not attentive enough. Not present enough. Too selfish. Too self-focused.
When we run out of hateful adjectives for ourselves, the judgement of others provides the rest.
So, we fight to control, to make sure that dreaded fear never becomes reality.
And we scream. We express words of anger.
When they do not eat. Or eat too much.
When they do not sleep. Or sleep too much. Or sleep at the wrong times.
When their rooms are a mess.
When their grades are not good enough.
When we do not approve of their choice of clothing.
Or their choice of words.
When they do not have enough extra-curricular activities.
Or do not participate in enough sports to get into the right university.
When they are lazing around, instead of studying.
My friend’s daughter will not go to university.
They will never fight over curfews.
Or her choice of clothes.
Or what she eats, or the quantity.
Or over her table manners.
They will not fight over money spent.
Or her choice of boyfriend.
Or her choice of husband.
Or the names she gives her own children.
Or how she raises her children.
They will never fight again.
I cannot sleep tonight.
I cannot sleep, because I cannot control the world around my children.
I do not know how to keep them safe forever.
I cannot keep them from their experiences, nor dictate their feelings, reactions, or thoughts.
I do not know their future, nor how long they will live.
And that is a painfully obvious and unbearable fact.
I know nothing about what is next.
All I know is they are here with me now.
I cannot control their world, nor prevent them from all harm.
All I can do is try and focus on the now.
Focus on what matters.
Try to free myself from repeating unconscious cycles of dysfunction and inherited patterns of behavior, outdated and inappropriate as they are to this particular life cycle.
And love them.
I can love them in every way I know how.
See beyond messy rooms, projected future outcomes, and my own triggers.
Speak words of love often and generously, looking each one in the eye.
So that regardless of how many or how few todays we have left, there will never be any doubt in their mind of that fact.
I wish it did not take the tragic death of a child to remind me of how precious my own children are.
And how fragile, unpredictable, and uncontrollable life is.
But after a day of tears, talks, hugs, and memories, I want to celebrate life.
I want to live in a glorious daily ritual of celebration—never again taking for granted each miraculous moment.
Author: Galina Singer
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell