This woman had the gift of being truly present. She could sense how hard I was trying, already, to be a “perfect mom”.
In that moment, when she spoke to me, I felt Seen. Safe. Respected.
When she said those two words, I was able to receive them. I didn’t understand them well. But I did receive them.
And, like birdsong, those words have gently floated into my awareness – over and over again. In all the many seasons since that long-ago day.
She said, simply:
Maybe the best way for me to communicate the power of these words, in my own life, is to ask you to do two things – at the same time.
First – hold your breath. Now – at the same time – laugh!
Turns out that when I’m enjoying my daughter, it’s impossible for me to do certain other things at the same time.
When I’m enjoying my daughter, I’m not reacting compulsively from my own fears and expectations. I’m not scrupulously evaluating the quality of my parenting, or looking for evidence that she has mastered skills and developed habits. I’m not comparing her to anyone else. I’m not fretting about the future or stewing about the past.
In moments when I am enjoying my daughter, I am present with her. Here. Now.
I am seeing her as the whole and uniquely marvelous person she is.
Listening to her. Delighting in her. Grateful for her.
When I enjoy my daughter, I offer her hospitality – freedom and safety – to be who she is – to feel how she feels.
I let go (for a little while) of the illusion that I can (or that I should) control every aspect of her life. And I discover, when I put that burden down for a moment, that I can breathe and think more freely. My perspective broadens.
But wait a minute! This site is filled with information and tools for teaching and supporting kids. We’re supposed to guide them and think about their future. They can’t raise themselves!
True enough. But let’s not get too carried away with what we’re “supposed to do”. Our children are not our projects. Their lives are their own. Each child is unique. We can discern how best to guide our children only when we take time to be present with them, listen to them, enjoy them.
I invite you to balance. That quality so beautifully found in nature, and so elusive for us humans. Sure – learn about planning tools and evidence-based practices. And – also – take time to enjoy your child – just as she is right now. Only then will you and your child together be able to discern which options may be helpful. And which options should be discarded like shoes that no longer fit.
Joy, laughter – open us to possibilities. Holding our breath all the time is no way to live!
I confess it’s easier for me to write these words now than it was for me to live by them when my daughter was a teen.
Back then, she was doing the work of adolescence – separating from me and trying to figure out her own identity. As all humans do, she made mistakes. Some of them were messy and scary. I made my own mistakes. Reacting harshly, out of fear. Trying my best to willfully shape her – like clay – in the form I thought best – using my arsenal of evidence-based practices.
But, once in a while, the two words spoken by that kind nurse drifted into my consciousness. “Enjoy her”.
Enjoy her! How? It felt like we were on opposite sides of a great divide.
Yet, every so often, we’d find a way. We’d watch a movie together. or go for a ride, or to breakfast or a bookstore. No agenda. Except to be with one another. Inevitably, something funny would happen (life is full of humor if we’re willing to see it). We’d share a laugh. Making space for us to breathe. And to forgive. And to see and hear each other. And enjoy each other for a little while. Those moments make all the difference.
When I enjoy my daughter, she feels Seen, Safe, Respected. I’ve learned that offering this kind of hospitality to my child means opening the windows of my heart. Letting in some fresh air, so I have more to offer than the stuffiness of a closed room.
For me, this may mean journaling, time with a friend, prayer, counseling, playing with paints, going for a walk. Sometimes it means asking others for help so I have a little time apart to – yes, I dare say it – enjoy myself.
When I care for myself in this way, space opens in me. And I hear anew the birdsong, reminding me: “Enjoy her”.
How do you take time to care for and enjoy yourself? What favorite ways have you and your child found to enjoy each other? Have you ever received advice that has stayed with you over the years? Please share your thoughts in the comments so we can support one another!
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Please take a little time today to enjoy yourself – and your child!
Photo Credit: New Jersey Birds at Flickr