So much of my suffering in relation to my son—and probably with most everything else for that matter—is my desire for things to be different than they actually are—a seemingly plain and simple truth. If only I could settle into what is actually occurring. Like when it rains, and I desire the sun to be out, I perpetuate the desire for the sun to be shining by choosing to feel agitated about the rain. So, instead of simply saying to myself, today looks like it’s going to be dark and rainy, I suppose instead of hiking I will get on the treadmill,” I become agitated and disappointed, which only perpetuates my suffering. I’m purposely using this scenario of the weather to demonstrate what happens in my mind when I’m caught in the cycle of wanting things—things I cannot change or control—to be different than they are. The arena where this is most profound is motherhood.
Recently, I’ve been speaking with other mothers of kids who have been to Wilderness Therapy programs. These programs are located in different parts of the US and are typically twelve weeks in length. Kids are put into an outdoor environment where there is a mandatory group and individual therapy. They are also living in the outdoors where they are expected to build a shelter, cook their food, and break down and set up camp as needed. These moms are also experiencing shattered fantasies in relationship with their kids. One of them spoke to me about her dreams that her son would be a published international journal writer. Something that would be driven by his strong intellect. Her fantasy was built around the reality that her son had a superior level IQ, in combination with a mind that quickly and proficiently integrates information. What this mother hasn’t taken into account are her son’s patterns of depression and anxiety congruous with the academic year, his relief during the spring and winter holidays, and a surge of happiness and healthy pleasure-seeking such as playing football and going to movies during the summer months. Her fantasy of his success didn’t match the truth of his current lack of motivation and interest as a student. It is too soon to say whether or not this pattern will be broken and replaced with a more productive one, but for now, this mom is recognizing her feelings of sadness. This grief response is a signal to her that she needs to actively release her well-crafted fantasy and move more toward acceptance of her son’s current capabilities. It’s been helpful to speak with her on several occasions because it has allowed me to further explore the depths of my own self-generated fantasies.
For starters, my son is in a therapeutic boarding school. I suffer because I don’t want this to be true. I want, instead, my son to be in the honors track of our public high school. I want this to be true even though, unlike the other kids, my son skipped school daily and couldn’t care less about his classes or learning in the school environment. I suffer because I don’t want this to be the truth. I want the reality to be that I am in discussion with teachers about his strengths or having other kids over to my house to work on school projects. That I am engaged in his learning, and that his learning is a part of our dinner-time discussions.
Another one of my delusions is my desire for my son to be the school’s best drummer. He has been drumming since he was six years old. He enjoys drumming and we have been told that hehas raw talent. However, when we enrolled him in a six-week local drumming camp, he was the one kid who did not take things seriously despite the fact that it took him a couple of years to be accepted into this particular six-week drumming track. Often my son would be ridiculed by teachers and students alike for his lack of focus and interest in participating. He was just not like the other musicians, not as focused or determined or desiring to please his teachers or peers. I created my own suffering because I wanted him to wake up and play music, create music, desire it the way his other musician friends yearn for their instruments in their hands. I suffer because this is not the case for my son. He is not married to his instrument in the same way as the others. He does not generate music or really even practice unless he is motivated by his musician friends. I become anxious and scared about his future. I project into the future and assume that he will always have these differences. That he will not be capable of the kind of focus and desire and internal motivation as his friends. These feelings and thoughts often disrupt my sleep. It also can be difficult to sit still with these emotions, and instead, I tend to escape in various ways.
I also want my son to strive toward filmmaking, which he loves despite the fact that when I enrolled him in a three-week New York City film camp, he could barely pay attention in the classroom. Other kids his age were attentive and intrinsically motivated. My son was more interested in socializing and having fun. He was different than the rest of them. These kids were focused and driven. They were at this camp for film, photography, or acting. They came from all over the U.S and several other countries. These kids were thrilled to socialize, but their focus was on classes and learning t thrived socially and with the tactile portion of this camp. The hands-on editing from his computer or setting up the cameras during shoots. I understand his ADD gets in the way; however, this doesn’t change the storyline of my fantasy-induced struggle. At the end of the summer when parents came to view all the short films the kids had made, it was clear that my son had talent, but he simply didn’t do his best work. His teacher gave him pointers as to just three small changes that were needed to make his film great. My son, however, decided that he simply wasn’t interested in making the effort. I was deeply disappointed at his lack of effort and because he just didn’t blend with these kids. He had fun and made friends, but at the end of the day and literally the last day, he didn’t appear proud like the others. I want him to be the kid who strives, whose short film was quality, and showed potential.
These desires of mine didn’t help turn my fantasies into reality. My son was just not in the emotional or psychic space to exhibit a higher level of capability on all these fronts and more. And I suffered as a result because I refused to live in the truth of where he was at that time.
This spiral of denial is not for lack of understanding him. It isn’t because I’m an “absent” mother. I know my son. I’m aware of his strengths and his weaknesses, aware of the kids he gravitates toward, and the fears he has about his competencies and what he feels is lacking. I became aware over time that I could no longer keep him safe from his poor choice in peers, drug use, and his escapades during the school days. All of this is clear, and yet I can’t seem to stop the conscious and subconscious yearning for my son to be different than he is—at the very least, for the circumstances to be different.
I wanted him to be able to keep up with the basics--attending school, caring about his grades, and setting a high bar for his progression as a drummer. These were the things other kids were easily doing. So why couldn’t he? This was my unanswered question, day in and day out. Why would he choose the bottom feeders? Why would he lie and avoid school? Cognitively he is more than capable, but his focus was clearly not in the direction my focus was at that time. I had so many questions, but here is what I have learned and I can confidently say that I do know.
I can be at peace with the truth when I allow room in my mind and my heart for the truth. It is important for me to remember that when I practice meditation or write in my journal or do my yoga or talk to a friend, I gain peace. Catching myself in my fantasy and telling myself to come back to reality is also quite useful. I work hard to stop myself from these fantasies. My reprieve may be temporary, but I know now how to help myself get there even if I am catching myself and bringing myself back to the reality of NOW, all day long. This helps keep my mind clear of any unnecessary noise and confusion. Seeing things as they truly are allows me to be mindful which in and of itself is a blessing. If I can bring my attention to the present moment as often as possible it keeps my mind from straying. Some days are really good days. I tell myself that my son has his own narrative, that his choices and his direction are really up to him. I am here to do as much as I can to direct him, but in the end, he will create his life, and that is for certain. My ability to assist and gently direct him is my obligation and desire as his mother, but I am only able to do my job well when I can accept life as it is and not what I expect or demand it to be.