A Mom's Struggle With Absence
I want to share some of my struggles during the three months that my son attended Wilderness in Utah. I am hopeful that writing about my experience, and the tools I utilized for coping will help at least one parent. My purpose is simply to offer you the knowledge that you are not alone. That there is healing in camaraderie.
To begin, once my son left in the early morning hours of January 2, 2017, I immediately heard and felt the silence in the home. Even though he would have been at school that day, and our home would have been quiet other than for our dogs, I anticipated that my son would not be returning home after school for many, many days to come. The emptiness I felt in the house became a focus for me throughout the early days of his absence. As the days and weeks passed, this unoccupied space was at times unbearable. I missed listening to him practicing drums or walking upstairs to say good morning, or asking for lunch money or to stay home from school because he was not feeling well….. again. The weekend days were often more difficult. No family outings, no complaints about homework or begging for a sleepover, or finding vape juice bottles scattered randomly in his bedroom. At these desperate times of missing him, I would have welcomed all the crap that came with parenting him. I even began to miss the phone calls from teachers saying that he was not in class or he was disruptive, or that they saw him in the morning, but then was no longer in school.
At this early juncture, probably one or two weeks after my son’s departure, I had serendipitously discovered the craft of weaving. While visiting one of my neighbors, I noticed at least three dozen spools of the most stunning colored yarn in her art studio. Apparently, she had been dabbling with weaving for years, and offered the name of the studio where she was first introduced. Literally, two days later began my initiation to weaving with floor looms. I was never drawn towards crafts, however, Saora, a style of Japanese weaving was the only activity at this time in my life that captured my entire focus and attention. I subsequently traveled to that studio twice per week for the duration of time that my son was in Wilderness. Weaving with a floor loom was absolutely the most mindful activity I have ever performed. This included meditation or yoga, which I have practiced for years. Weaving incorporated tactile, visual and motor skills simultaneously. This art form allowed for brief periods of respite from my feelings of loss and sadness. It gave me the opportunity to be out of my home for several hours at a time, which, by the way, I do not consider avoidance, but rather reprieve. I would highly recommend for any parent struggling, that finding a mindful activity may bring peace and comfort. These moments of relief offered psychic space for me to engage with other meaningful supports.
One of these supports was a paramount book entitled Parallel Process, by Krissy Pozatek. This book was and continues to be a lifeline for me. One of the stories in this book allowed me to engage with my son in a way that was extraordinary. This was the story of a father who decided that during the time his son was in Wilderness, he would sleep on his bedroom floor. For the father, this was a way to remain connected with his son, knowing that his son was sleeping on the ground as well. Somehow aligning literally and symbolically with his son’s struggle was a parallel process of sorts, that offered the father a way to remain linked. I was encouraged by this story and decided to give up eating processed sugar, my drug of choice. I figured if my son is giving up his friends, cigarettes, marijuana and who knows what else, I could certainly do the same. This commitment for me allowed for a feeling of connection to my son while he was gone. It was a reminder of his Wilderness struggle. For both of us to increase our tolerance for uncomfortable feelings without the assistance of any chemical. Breaking old patterns and discovering new ways of coping with anxiety, sadness or disappointment. Our family was on the road to self-discovery and change.
One of these changes included emotional separation. I recognized early on the importance of separating out my needs from my son’s. I wanted him home, and at times felt I needed him home. He, on the other hand, absolutely needed to be away from home in order to have the chance to reflect, take ownership and practice new ways of behaving. During these moments which arrived often, I would often reach out to my husband, family, and friends who helped talk me “off the ledge” so to speak. They all new instinctively to offer a rational and non-emotional perspective. I was instructed with compassion to recognize that I was, in fact, a courageous parent for taking this step, this leap of faith in sending my child to Wilderness, and that specifically naming all the reasons I placed him in Wilderness, to begin with allowed for affirmation of my decision. I had to re-visit this cognitive exercise quite often during the time he was away.
Though the reinforcement from loved ones was essential for me day to day, it did not stop my tears when I saw kids walking home from the bus stop. It did not change my adjustment to a life of “empty nesters” which has emerged prematurely. Nor did it prevent me from feeling anger towards my son for his not being able to simply attend school and function like all these other kids I was seeing.
Finally, many of my struggles were acknowledged through my attending a vast number of webinars offered by the Wilderness program. These webinars were life-changing. They offered a week by week progression of invaluable concepts, stories, ideas and insights regarding parenting, child development, and the role of the adolescent brain. There are literally hundreds of webinars/podcasts available to Wilderness parents. Some of these I listened to with my husband, while others I shared with friends. These were instrumental for my learning, coping and ultimately developing some of my parenting skills.
These months were certainly tumultuous ones, but my feelings of loss and vacancy became increasingly more tolerable as time went on. Simultaneously, my growth as a person and a parent also strengthened. I am hopeful that this blog will bring some comfort to other parents and that possibly you can identify some coping strategies that can help you along the way.