“That Makes Me Sad” and Other Parental Gifts
“Hey Mom,” my 22 year old son began, somewhat nervous. “I wanted to tell you something. Well...umm...my girlfriend asked if I would like to go spend the holidays with her family this year.” and then he paused.
My heart sank a little, as it does each time I am reminded that my young adults are just that, adults. Holidays--hell, all the days--they are different now. I tried not to pause too long. I knew he was quietly trying to read my emotions through the phone.
“Awesome!” I said. “That is a big deal! How fun! That is really cool.” And, I meant it.
He paused and said, “Really?” Another pause. Hesitant, he said, “Okay. I’m just really worried that it will make you sad, Mom.”
My son is a beautiful human. Full of kindness and charity. Love and tenderness. He was the boy that I asked to become a young man at the age of five years old, when I left his father. With two others younger than him and a very solo road ahead, I needed his help. As a naïve young mother, I deemed him “the man of the house” like a wrapped up gift. With it came more responsibility than any child should ever carry. A burden he still holds, even while I try to take it back.
One of the biggest pieces of the Self that I have worked on since becoming an “Evoke Parent,” is teaching my children that they are not responsible for my emotions. This is difficult. Because for years I taught them that they were. This was difficult for me to discover. I was a “good parent.” Yet, in so many ways I asked them to take care of me. Working multiple jobs and caring for them; I was hanging by a thread. I imagine them seeing me walk in after a long day, exhausted in all the ways, and their little hearts thinking, “Don’t make her sad.”
“That makes me sad,” was something I would say when my children did do something wrong. It was something I heard from my parents. Actually, I still do hear it from my parents. It’s a saying that I believe in my family was supposed to imply agency, freedom, and a form of unconditional love. That I could make my own choices, but if they were the wrong ones, I would hurt them. So essentially, no I couldn’t. My parents, at the very root, are loving and kind and yet they too have their own wounding that was passed on to them. It was how they were parented. It all makes sense right? The gift that keeps on giving. “I’m not mad, I am disappointed,” was another often used phrase. There are others. These phrases were given to me, and I passed them on.
A pause that I have been gifted now, because of Evoke, is the pause of curiosity. When my kids do something or say something, and I want to use a parent phrase that I was raised with, I pause. And ask, “What did this feel like when I heard it as a child? Or even now?” The phrase “that makes me sad” brings up guilt, worry, and a belief that I am bad. Did it change my behavior as a child? Probably. But not without the unwanted gift of thinking I was bad.
Back to my son’s question. Was I sad that my little baby boy would not be spending the holidays with me? Of course. I miss him. I miss the days of his long brown slick hair, and his tan skin, and Christmas jammy bottoms running toward the tree. I miss him and his brother and sister making a fort in the bedroom, to sleep the Eve away. I miss hearing him laugh, and I will miss him this year. It does make me sad. So I took my sad elsewhere.
I called my Mom and sisters where I could share the grief and bittersweet joy of raising young adults. I cried sitting next to my husband who giggled at me when I told him what my son said. My husband knowing that of course I would be sad, and trying to lighten the mood with his laughter. Which it did, because humor in parenting is a must. I shared my sad with my therapist, and my therapist friend who both know that holding space for my sadness and validating its worth, matters to me. I am not alone and I am normal in this. I’m sharing my sad here, and it is helping.
I am taking care of myself, so my children don’t have to anymore. And, in learning to encompass and take care of my own sadness, my hope it that I can model for my son. That, “Yes, my boy, it makes me sad. Yet I can take care of my own sadness. And so can you. You can take care of yours as well. Sadness is okay.”
Daily, I think of each parent I speak to this time of year, considering placing their child during the holidays. I know this makes them sad; changing traditions and having one of their babies away. It’s hard, and feels unfair, and grabs at the memories strung in the heart of holidays past. Yet here at Evoke, you get to feel those feelings. You get to learn how to be with all of your emotions. Including sadness. Even better, your child learns to feel their own emotions too. They learn to embrace their own human experience.
I am not sure there is a greater gift.