Raising Children And Being Raised By Them

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One of my daughters feels things deeply. Maybe not any deeper than the rest of us but she hasn’t learned to ignore her feelings or to call them by some other name. It forces me to pay attention. How she walks through the world hand in hand with her feelings has made me look in the mirror and question how often I’ve ignored my inner call to do less, slow down, or step away. As I mother these young women, I’m reminded to mother myself. To love, nurture, celebrate, and honor my own knowing in the same way I do those things for them and they do for themselves.

Take for example an experience we had a couple of years ago at a martial arts birthday party. Over a dozen kids gathered as a high energy instructor guided them through a variety of exercises. As soon as the instructor began directing the kids, it felt as though he was fueled by draining the energy in the room. The kids kicked, punched, ran, and jumped as he shouted commands and cheered them on.

About ten minutes in, my youngest came running over to me, tears welling up in her eyes. I worried I’d missed her getting karate chopped by an overzealous Bruce Lee wannabe. When I asked her if she was hurt, she told me she didn’t like it. She didn’t like the energy, the shouting, the intensity. She had a visceral reaction to being in that environment. Her body could not pretend to be okay.

I told her we could leave but she insisted on giving it another go. I didn’t push and allowed her to navigate on her own. She finished the rest of the martial arts exercises but came over every few minutes to collect herself. When the festivities were over and we got into our car, her first words were, “I never want to go back there again.”

Her sister, who had also been at the party, echoed these sentiments. This was surprising because she had taken part in all the exercises and had given no indication she wasn’t enjoying herself. Neither one enjoyed it but one could participate and keep the intensity at bay while the other took on the energy and was easily overwhelmed by it.

They’ve been this way since birth. One was a laid back baby that could waltz in and out of different situations without batting an eyelash. The other, born with colic, screamed for three months straight. They process experiences, energy, and their environment in vastly different ways.

More recently, we had another birthday party to attend. An art themed affair that invited kids to create their own artwork. On a regular day, this is a dream come true for my feeler. On that particular day, she had woken up tired and slightly under the weather, a room full of exuberant 7 and 8 year olds was too much to bear. She couldn’t muster the energy to pretend to be okay. After spending a few minutes with the kids, she came back to me and told me she didn’t want to stay. She said there was too much energy.

This child knows deep in her bones what she needs. When her body calls on her to listen, she responds. My other child knows she is different than her sister. She can go, go, go,  then be still and regroup. They didn’t fly out of the womb and tell me this. I’ve had to pay close attention, look for patterns, cultivate the language that empowers them to own who they are and how they move through the world.

I must do these same things for myself. I  believed once that mothering was this outward experience of caring for someone else. The real work, though, is within. Every lesson they learn seems more for my benefit than theirs. Am I paying attention when my body tells me to slow down? Do I listen to that voice inside that tells me to clear the calendar? Am I surrounding myself with love when my heart needs to be filled? Am I listening to myself? It’s a small miracle to watch my daughters live so in tune with the sacred wisdom we’re all born with. I would benefit from staying out of their way and tuning into my own sacred knowing.

I had no idea when I became a parent how much motherhood would teach me about being a person in the world. Maybe this is parenting. Not something I do for/to my children but something my children inspire in me to do for myself.  We’re raising each other. We rise together.

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