For too many years I held on so tightly to the rope of control in my life, sure that if I gave up any slack, the sailboat of my life would keel over. My experiences of being married to someone with addictions led me to believe that I could only trust myself to make the right decisions for my children and for myself. I knew what my dreams were for my family and I took the job of controlling the experience of a functional family very seriously.
I read every parent magazine monthly and I went to parenting workshops. I played imaginary games with my kids, sang and danced with them, read books, wished on stars, encouraged them to dream, question and get messy, and we had dinner together almost every single night. I was very active in their school, and encouraged them to talk to me about anything. Come hell or high water, I was going to make sure that the dysfunction that arises from having a parent who is compromised, wouldn’t touch them.
For most of the 19 years of my marriage, I didn’t even know it was an option to turn to ask for help. I assumed I needed to tolerate the situation I was dealt, quietly and stoically. I hid most everything from the outside world, and with the guidance of inspirational literature, envisioned daily the life I wanted for my family, assuming that was all I could do. There were certain benchmarks I knew my children needed to meet and I was going to get them there. It was all about protecting them from anything that might get in the way of the vision I had for them – an easy, breezy upbringing with two present, loving, functional parents, who could give them the foundational security they needed to be able to navigate the world confidently.
Believe it or not, it is only recently, so many years later, that I am realizing the repercussions and damage that I did to myself by thinking I had no choices for so long, that stopped me from confiding and seeking help, and from not even knowing to pray for help or choices.
After we split, I was forced to handle too many complicated parenting situations alone, none of which had surfaced beforehand. All of a sudden, the one thing I could rely on – I am an expert parent who makes good decisions, always knowing what’s right for my children – was seriously put to the test. There is something profoundly humbling when your child tells you after 15 years that you did not even know their gender. This is the first, most basic thing we learn about our child. And I got it wrong.
Alone, I had to deal with the trials and tribulations of raising 3 teenagers. At times, these challenges felt much bigger than myself and I would think, “What am I supposed to do now? How am I supposed to react to this? I feel completely alone and ill-equipped. There is so much pressure to make the right decision. However I react now is going to set a precedent for the future adolescent experiences, and I’m not sure which type of parent I should be.” So, without even realizing I was doing it, I would start to pray out of desperation. “Help me know what to say or do. Where do I start?” I had no one else to ask. Of course, I would come up with some response, hoping for the best. I’ve learned years later from my kids that some of my decisions were right on and some were misguided. That’s okay. None of us have a roadmap.
I can clearly count the few specific times during a five year span that I was literally begging God to help me. I didn’t see any clear path to the outcome that I knew I absolutely needed to have for my family, and I enlisted God’s help. I will tell you that in most of those specific cases, true miracles took place. I’m talking stuff that felt to me to be comparable to the parting of the Red Sea. There were a couple of times, though, that the miracle did not take place and I was shattered, sure that my world would now come to an end. How were we going to get through this? Looking back, I now know that the outcomes I was praying for could have had devastating repercussions, and I am so grateful that God knew more than I did.
I’m not always a quick learner and it’s only recently that I have realized how powerful it feels to let go of controlling our outcomes in life. I have never felt so free and things have never gone so well. Instead of waiting for times of desperation and begging for help from God (or whatever name I feel like giving my higher power at the time), I have very composed conversations with this higher power. I basically just sit on the edge of my bed and say, “Okay, what’s the next step here? What will be right for me? I know you’re going to guide me so I’ll just let you show me.”
And the answers come! Although I’d like to say I was born with unconditional faith, I’ll admit that lately I’ve been shown a lot of evidence to make the trust come more easily. There are just way too many coincidences and immediate responses from life, for these experiences to be random. I certainly don’t think of myself as a Holy Roller (I’m not even quite sure what that is) but there have been times that I’ve been so tickled at how my questions are being answered or my path is being guided, that I do want to jump and shout, “Can I have a Hallelujah?! Because that turn of events was awesome!”
I’m learning that I don’t have all of the answers and guess what? That’s not causing my life to fall apart. My life was in a lot more disrepair when I thought I did. It was so much pressure! I know I’m not the only parent who has said, “If they would only listen to everything I say, their lives would be perfect.” But I was actually wrong. And I love knowing that! I don’t have to answer everything! I get to just enjoy the ride like everyone else.
The other thing I’ve learned is that I’m not alone. There is some other power that knows more than I do and that is happy to direct me. For silly things and for important things. It’s like magic! I have had such fun and relief giving up my decisions to this power in past couple of months. I am also calmer in a way I haven’t been before, finally being able to trust in something other than myself.
And, once again, my kids are leading me in these realizations. It’s very hard for me to let go of the fact that even though I so desperately wanted my kids to have an uncomplicated life with two present, involved parents, that it didn’t happen. I thought that when I left my spouse six years ago, the peace I felt in my heart meant that there was nothing I really needed to heal.
But old wounds have resurfaced as the care I want my children to receive from their father is not being realized. I wonder if once again I am tolerating a situation, since I am not challenging their father. It has been so hard for me to be silent, when I feel so passionately. This time, though, my children are fully aware of the situation, and they are empowered to respond in whatever ways serve them. And they want to respond or to choose not to engage, on their own, without me interfering. And in a way, that is a relief to me. I am so tired of trying to control someone else’s relationship. It doesn’t work. There’s a better plan for us than I could design, and my kids and I are open to it.
My kids are also not as bothered as I am because their expectations are much more realistic. They have been soothing me, rather than the other way around, and they are pointing out why the lack of relationship, as it is, is healthier for them right now and most likely a gift. They do not want to be exposed to whatever energy has prevented their father from seeing them. I needed to let my own control and expectations for that father-child relationship go.
So, this week, on what would have been my 25th wedding anniversary, my ex moved to the opposite coast, and I welcome the symbolism of starting anew. I now am letting go of the expectation about that relationship. I see how strong, resilient, intuitive, sensitive and capable each child of mine is, and I know that things have worked out beautifully, even if it wasn’t how I would have thought to design their lives.
Letting go of what I thought I needed to hold onto so tightly, in order to have control in my life, is scary. But now that I’m doing it, it’s the most empowering, freeing feeling. The more I ask, “What is the best next step for me” instead of “How do I reach this specific outcome?” the more liberated and capable I actually am. Independence Day will have many meanings for me this year.