Of children and parents

Damien and I both work at home. We have for many years. My work has always been home-based, first as a full-time caregiver and then homeschool parent for our children. And now as a student, virtual assistant, and writer.

It took a few years to get Damien home. He’s a computer guy and a software engineer, and his work is the kind that can be done from home. Not everyone has this option or wants this option. But we did, weathering financial instability and its effects on our marriage to get here.

graduation celebration spring 2022

I’m super grateful for where we’re at. I recognize how lucky we are, but also we have been married for 26 years, and we set this goal for ourselves. And there’s something to be said for setting goals and working towards them, day by day by day.

Way back when the kids were little, and Damien was in an office all day, things would get stressful at home. Of course, things would also get stressful for my husband, but he’s a “keep it to yourself” person. I am not.

I wanted nothing more than to be exactly where I was, but I still found it hard. I don’t remember the precise details, but I know sleep deprivation had much to do with it. I would call Damien regularly, in tears, at the end of my rope with the kids.

Was it the constant feeding, often from my own body? Was it the intense physicality of the work? Was it the competing demands for attention and love and clean diapers from three children born in three and half years? Was it the emotional intensity of the work?

Yes. Yes, it was.

I look back on those days of intense physical and emotional connection to my children with deep nostalgia. I was their north star and their center. And for that center to hold, I needed my own emotional rock. And that rock was Damien.

staining The Sanctuary garage with my dad, April 2022

A lot could be said here about the perils of the atomization of the village into nuclear family units. We could critique the modern North American culture of alienation within extended families and between women, who traditionally cared for children collectively. That’s beyond the scope of this post, though you’ll find some of that in this video.

My point is to simply acknowledge the North American nuclear family is the sociological context of my experience as a young mother. I recognize that different conditions may have yielded different results (i.e: no tearful afternoon phone calls to my husband). Regardless, my story remains what it is: my experience.

In my most difficult moments, when I felt beyond my capabilities and capacities, I would phone Damien at work. Usually in the afternoon. He had the kind of job where he could answer my calls. What a gift. He would talk me down from whatever emotional ledge I was on. When I asked him how I should respond to a particular situation with the kids, the advice I remember most is, “just love them.”

He didn’t know the answers either. And truthfully, what I needed most in those moments was to be heard and affirmed by another adult. Damien was clear about our job as parents. And he trusted me to do my part at home while he did his part behind a computer.

Whatever issue overwhelmed me, Damien helped point me back to our purpose as parents in the heat of the moment.

Our job is to love these children.

meeting Papa at a city square, Sept 2022

I recognize the myriad unanswered questions (like, how?) in the simple statement of “just love them.” But practical answers weren’t the point at that moment. Damien is pretty good at coming up with solutions to specific problems. But that wasn’t what was needed in those moments. The problem-solving talks were later.

We didn’t have the emotional intelligence language that people use now to work through things. But when Damien said to love them, I know he meant physically meeting their emotional needs - hold, carry, comfort, and nurse. Be with them. In your exhaustion and frustration, don’t distance yourself from them, and certainly don’t distance them from you.

Or maybe he didn’t mean that, but that’s what I heard, and so that’s what I did.

As the kids grew and they no longer orbited around me and us as their star, the specific tasks of our calling as parents changed. Still, the purpose and vision for parenting remained.

Post cold water ocean dip with Mom, April 2022

We are to be our children’s safe zone. We hold, preserve, and nurture the space for the relationship to flourish. We need to be the known value as they encounter so many unknowns.

We don’t hold them to an expectation of meeting our needs. We meet their needs.

It’s not an equal relationship between parent and child.

My long-term goal has always been friendship with my children. That they will want me to be a part of their life and will share themselves with me.

In the same way that I cherish my friendship with my own parents, I want nothing more than a close connection with my children. And when these moments happen, I am flooded with the sublime, like only the fulfillment of purpose and desire can yield.

But I remain the parent, and I cannot and should not expect things from my children that are a parent’s responsibility to provide. Of course, I hope my children give these in return, but they are, first and foremost, mine to model, live, and give.

Unconditional love and acceptance. A safe harbour. Joy and delight in their presence. A commitment to always hold the space open for the relationship.

I see you. I affirm you. I love you. I adore you.

I’m not a therapist or psychologist and I can think of some very unhealthy parent/child relationship dynamics in which I would be flummoxed and grieved to find solutions and ways of being together. I can’t speak to those things.

I am speaking here of the incredible responsibility and opportunity we have as parents in the invitation to move closer to our potential as humans in our relationship with our children. To journey there ourselves and to make a way for our children to journey there likewise.

I am grateful to my own parents for showing me this path. The harbour of their love, their joy and delight in my presence, and their commitment to hold the space open for the relationship through all things are the cairns orienting me towards fulfilling this love.

visiting my brother in Greenville, SC Nov 2022

Having been given great love, I will one day bear the responsibility for my parent’s needs and well-being with joy, not from expectation but from cultivation.

We are not there yet. But that’s the endgame. Should I be so lucky.

I do not know what the point of life is, if not to love one another. If not to nurture one another to the highest expression of our potential as humans - the care for the other.

I will keep stumbling my way there, following the cairns and adding stones for my children to follow. Forever grateful for the experiences of being a child and a parent, relationships that point the way and walk us home.

« Situating myself on the political spectrum and the authoritarianism of the left
The year I find my fire »

You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.