On Giants' Shoulders

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Next Stage of Mothering

When you have tiny babies, mothering is a very intense and stressful time. You listen to their breathing at night, you worry about every little temperature, odd diaper, strange cry, etc. You think things will get easier as they grow. In some ways they do, but at every stage there are new things to worry about, new challenges to face, new decisions to be made. A lot of parents figure that once the kids are eighteen the job will finally get easier or that it will in essence be done. Well that's not quite true. There is a sense in which you are done. You can no longer tell them what to do, you are no longer responsible for them legally. Yet there is a larger sense in which you really aren't done. They will continue to be your children, albeit grown up ones, for their whole lives. The stage of mothering that involves adult children can be fraught with all kinds of anxieties, tears, and agonizing prayers. What's hardest is that most of the time there isn't a great deal you can actually DO other than offer those agonizing prayers.

Over the past few months I've had more than one occasion to talk with moms whose grown up children are in one way or another disappointing them. Each of these moms have some grown-up children whose choices they are proud of, and others who are constantly driving them to their knees. It just goes to show that kids can grow up in the same household with the same parents and yet make very different decisions.

There are all kinds of ways that this stage in life can bring heartbreak. Within the past few weeks one family lost their beautiful daughter in a car accident while another had theirs arrested in a drug enforcement sweep. Which family is experiencing the greater grief? Is it the family whose lovely Christian daughter is no longer physically with them, or the family whose more rebellious daughter is facing a 5-40 year federal sentence if she's convicted of dealing crack cocaine? Is it harder for the mom whose daughter is living with someone she isn't married to, but planning a wedding in the not too distant future or the mom whose daughter had a baby several years back and now seemingly has no prospects for marriage at all? Is it the mom of the young man who seems to be drifting, but remains steadfast in his faith or the mom of the young man who has a successful career, but who has turned his back on everything his parents taught him to believe about God?

St. Monica had a son who for a long time was both a success and a disappointment to her. His career path had him on a trajectory towards success, his moral life was a failure. Later he had an encounter with God, but that led ultimately to a totally different career path. Monica had to let go of one dream in order to have the other come to fruition. She never got it all. With the joy of his conversion came the disappointment that he was not going to marry the daughter of a rich man after all.

Our children, like Monica's need our prayers. I think there are a lot of mothers who wish that there were a St. Ambrose around to lift them up and say, "the son of those tears will not be lost." We may not have an Ambrose around, but we can be encouragers to the moms whose children seem to be very lost right now. We can offer our prayers for their children and for them. We can encourage them to continue to love their children, no matter what. And the other thing we can do is to not judge them. It's so easy to play the what if game. What if they hadn'tlet their daughter date that young man, what if they hadn't sent their kids to that school, what if they had sent their kids to that school, what if they hadn't had so many kids, what if they'd had a few more, what if the mom had stayed home instead of working, what if the mom had gotten a job instead of just staying home, what if they had spanked less, or spanked more. On and on it goes. At this point the what if's really don't matter, what they really need is our love, our compassion, our encouragement, and our prayers. I've joked a lot in recent years that we need a La Leche League type organization for the mothers of grown up kids. Perhaps we could call it The Saint Monica League. Only humble or humbled mothers need apply. Equipment required: boxes of kleenex and kneeling mats, a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.


At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank-you so much for expressing what only another mother can understand! My daughter sent me this link today and I believe that it was certainly orchestrated by God, because I needed to know that I'm not the only one who feels this way....
Peace & blessings,
JC in VT

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Jennifer F. said...

This is such a great post. I love the idea of a St. Monica League! I just linked to it from my links blog. :)

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Shari said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post. I have children both at home and out in the world so I know what you are saying here! Count me in the "League."

At 5:56 AM, Blogger Kitchen Madonna said...

I got my grief when my handicapped son was diagnosed. However, as he has grown up, I've missed a great deal of the usual grief of teens and young adults. He is the happiest young man and makes others happier. When I ask him how his day was, he'll say, "Fabulous, as always."

But when I die, I have to make sure he is cared for financially and in a few other ways. I better spend my purgatory on earth so I can pray from Heaven sooner.


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