You cannot catch a child’s spirit by running after it. You must stand still, and for love it will soon itself return. -Arthur Miller
This became evident to me several summers ago, when I spent 6 weeks suffering with a severe case of hives all over my body. When the itching first began, the only way to find relief was to lie absolutely motionless.
My kids, who are delightfully self-entertaining, went about their business for the first few hours, checking in on me occasionally to see if I needed anything. As the day wore on, they realized that I was a sitting duck. They set up camp on my king size bed, and we proceeded to have some very deep and thought-provoking conversations.
I doubt these interactions would have occurred if I had been my usual productive and bustling self. I probably would have interrupted the quiet time that was necessary for their questions to emerge in order to jump up and fold the laundry before it wrinkled.
I hardly ever sit still when I’m healthy. There’s always so much to do. Hives taught me lots of important things … not the least of which is that the world will not collapse if I don’t hold it up. Sure, I fell behind on things. For the first time in my life I left phone calls unreturned, and dishes in the sink, and laundry wet and wrinkled for days.
But the sun continued to rise and set anyway. I didn’t lose any friends due to my poor response time. And my kids learned how to take care of dirty dishes and clothes.
My son is a budding chef, and he had lots more freedom in the kitchen when I wasn’t there telling him what to do or how to do it better. He was so proud to serve us the delicious meals he had prepared.
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our kids is drop out and let them experience their own competence. My kids blossomed during my down time. I think it was really great for them to feel needed and important; to make a contribution to the family that really mattered.
Yeah, it’s sad that it took a nasty case of hives for me to realize that I was not giving them enough opportunities to experience their own competence, but so be it. Now I know. True confessions of a compulsive caretaker.
Testing my lessons learned, I asked my son if he would fix a towel hook that had fallen off the wall. He seized the mission with zest, gathering all his tools together and tackling the problem with great concentration.
I stayed busy elsewhere in the house and left him alone. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came to tell me the job was done. Not only had he fixed the hook, but he had even cleaned up the mess and put all the tools away!
I’ve realized that the best way to love my kids has changed as they’ve grown older. It’s not so much about taking care of them anymore. Now they need opportunities to discover their ability to take care of themselves.
I’ve graduated from being their source to being their resource. My job has changed from doing things for them to expressing my confidence that they can learn to do things for themselves.
Just in the nick of time, too. I’ve been craving uninterrupted opportunities to write and think and meditate. I’m relieved to know that I can take this time for myself without feeling that I am depriving them somehow.
I guess I needed the reassurance that it was ok, even good for them, that I wanted space to myself. Mama Bird at some point needs to get tough on her babies while getting them ready to fly. Maybe Mother Nature gives her a helping hand by offering her the tool of irritation to toughen her up so she does what must be done.
Traditionally it’s been hard for me to trust that even my irritation could be ok. Once more, I have been reminded that all is truly as it should be. And for that, I am grateful.