When my son was born, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of tender-hearted love that I felt but I also felt shocked, I mean TOTALLY UNPREPARED for the amount of anxiety and uncertainty that characterizes these very early moments and then the subsequent years of parenthood. This uncertainty is caused by different circumstances for each one of us, sometimes it’s lonely mothering, a child’s illness, a changing work situation or a move to a different country, and sometimes the well-known sleepless nights or feeding problems, and sometimes by all these things at once. The fear and anxiety is present and experienced by all – it’s the given and the universal to our parenting experiences.
We deal with this uncertainty in many different ways, we cling to books, we cling to people, we cling to ideas, we cling to our identities or we withdraw, we withdraw from books, withdraw from people, withdraw from each other, withdraw from ourselves. All of this is supposed to help us handle the physical exhaustion and the cocktail of emotions that appear in the early phases of parenting. Pema Chödrön once quoted a Times article which said that we are more afraid of uncertainty than we are of physical pain.
I think she was right here.
She also wisely advised that in order to deal with uncertainties we must learn to smile at fear. To accept all the complex thoughts and feelings that engulf us in periods of uncertainty. Because it is only then that we will be able to understand what it means to be a human. Because it is only then that we will be able to understand and empathise with other people, but also with oneself. Yes, with oneself.
When we stay open to what’s ahead of us, the road widens and our curiosity grows and that’s what gives us courage to be together with our children and with our loved-one on each section of that road, walking together, with calm curiosity little by little, one intriguing section at a time.
On Valentine’s Day my husband, son and I went for a walk to an area of hills and valleys close to where we live. We just wanted a short walk down the valley and I was wearing a dress and everyday shoes (and my heavy camera without any charged batteries, grrr). Certainly not a type of gear to do any climbing in. I did not know that we would climb, with our son on my husband’s shoulders, in many ways unprepared. We were stepping higher and higher… curious what the world would look like if we went up just another ten more metres. We enjoyed the walk up, checking we had good footholds and letting each other and others know to avoid the wet and slippery bare rock that sometimes presented itself in the path. We enjoyed being given helpful suggestions by passing walkers and most of all we enjoyed the freedom and exhilaration of the climb up into the fresh and gentle cold breeze, periodically heated by a bright but distant winter sun. And then little by little we smilingly reached the top, sat for a moment on the highest point, and stared at the other rocky peaks that we one day might want to climb.
When I return to the time when I gave birth, I see myself as ‘unprepared in so many ways’. I still see myself now as ‘unprepared in so many ways’, but I am convinced that even unprepared we can still climb.