Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Support Brief

When my kids were babies, support seemed to be around most every corner.  Before birth, there were the showers – people asked what you needed, there were places to register to list what you need, you’d have parties and people gave you what you needed.  Once the baby arrived, there were supportive visits to the hospital, gifts and flowers were brought, meals were arranged, hands were held, tears of uncertainty wiped away.  As baby grew, there were playgroups, mom’s groups, PTA’s and other mom-to-mom networks.  Help, it seemed, was just a phone call away, as the comrades were often willing to jump in and offer assistance – even if it meant we were all figuring it out together.  Through our connections and support we learned how to better lay down our lives for our families, sometimes becoming secretly envious of those would did it better than ourselves.

Funny how there is so much support when you get into that stage of life, yet none to be found for many, once you find yourself getting out of that stage (I mean, who would attend a social/support group for people who were learning to become more selfish?).

A little over two years ago, I found myself in that No Man’s Land of working myself out of a job:  my 20+ year marriage was recovering from its near demise; my son – the youngest of my three kids - had completed high school and was preparing to move away to a university 600 miles from our home; our oldest daughter (living overseas) was getting married; and our middle child was making her own plans to strike out on her own, as well.  I was attending school part-time in another state, and my frequent travels put me further out of touch with my once-active support network of other moms of kids of similar ages of mine.

While this was a somewhat isolating time for me, it was also empowering.  I realized that I could no longer depend on sheer convenience and demographics to dictate my social networks, and I became much more autonomous.  Since then, I finished my first round of schooling (a certificate program); I launched my own business; my husband and I have moved to different states – TWICE; I am going to become a grandmother for the first time; AND as of next week, I will be a college freshman.
I think many of us mom-types become blind-sided by the transitions that are a normal part of life, if we are not expecting them and their accompanying impacts.  So many of us in my generation – and even more, it seems, in this – put so much effort and attention in the raising of our children (some call this ‘helicopter parenting’…) that this 18+ year project becomes THE focus of our existence.  If we do our jobs well, we work ourselves out of the job (ie:  the kid strikes out on their own as a functioning member of society rather than holing up in our basements until they’re 25 or 30), but also if we do our jobs well, as the kid gains independence, we are simultaneously in the process of gaining our own independence from this role of completely-others-focused-mother to someone who knows our own needs and desires, and can figure out a way to meet them.

Too often, the household dynamics change with the normal progression of life-stages, the kids leave home, the childhood pets die, employment may change as jobs become more or less demanding, our own parents require guidance from us now, all of a sudden we feel as if life is changing too fast and we begin to long for the ‘back when…’ times; we get stuck looking over our shoulders at the past and forget to look for the opportunity that is stretched out on our paths before us – if only we watch for it.
This is the time when that dreaded ‘mid-life crisis’ can occur – when we search for something … anything … to take us away from the newly-created, often confusing, disorienting thing called the present, and we think anywhere but “here” must surely be better than this vast shadows-of-the-past-filled place.  Be aware of this, when you’re in this type of transition stage. 

Rather than running AWAY FROM the things that have the potential for stress and confusion, focus on looking for things to run TO.  Do you have a secret wish to learn a new skill or reignite an old one?  Flirt with it by taking a class or joining a group that does just that.  Are you hesitant to alter an adult kid’s old bedroom ‘just in case’ they need to someday come back?  Perhaps the freeing thing for both of you might be to go ahead and turn it into a guest room, a hobby room or your own den (should another need for that space arise somewhere in the future be open for that change as well); or scarier still, move to an empty-nesters’ home.  Still cooking the foods that you knew your finicky eaters would eat, but now find only adults at the table?  Allow yourself to move into a more adventurous realm of culinary adventures without worrying about the little voices that might say, “Steamed artichokes?  Gross!”  Feeling that there’s never time to exercise because you’ve got to get dinner on the table by 6pm because that’s what you’ve always done?  If your nest is empty, there’s no reason that dinner can’t be later, earlier, or even sometimes non-existent to accommodate your schedule these days (I can remember those evenings when we’d have a sports practice or meet, or someone would have a school or club meeting or need to be at work at a particular time and I would scramble to figure out dinner that could ‘work’ for everyone and still have time to do what we needed to do.  Why is that so hard for us to figure out for ourselves?), or even consider asking another adult in the house to cook.

Look for ways to gain support in your new role, whatever that might be.  The most important person to include in that support group is you.  Some of the group’s rules should include a promise to stay focused on the things that ARE possible now, rather than the things that ARE NOT anymore; and if someone in the group forgets that one, there should be a loving way to remind them that they’re off-track and help for getting back on.  Gradually, you may find that your group’s membership starts to expand to include some of your biggest fans and admirers (some of whom might have left during those crabby, “nobody cares about me” days…) as they are drawn by the positive energy and effervescence that begins to radiate from you as you walk in a newfound peace and acceptance for yourself – even if you’re not taking care of their every needs these days.  If you’ve done your job correctly, you won’t need to…

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