Mothering: A Journey of Weaning and Courage
I’ve seen it enough times to recognize it as a phenomenon. When parents come to Steiner Education through the Early Childhood Program, the experience is intense and powerful, to say the least. We step into a world that is entirely new on the one hand, but also one that we deeply recognize. Our lives change.
We begin to speak softly to our children and learn or resurrect craft-making, to keep our hands busy for our little ones to see and imitate. Out goes the perfume and the dark, synthetic clothing. In comes, natural, organic, biodynamic everything. We adjust our environment and dive headlong into learning everything we can about how to consciously raise our children in this new/old way. We do not say “no’ every other minute when they begin smashing or grabbing someone else’s toys, instead we redirect them towards positive and productive tasks. We do not bombard them with questions about what they want to eat, or wear, knowing that the burden of choice is too much for little children. We make the choices (as we should) and apply them lovingly, yet firmly. We create boundaries so that our children are properly held and can explore and be without going to extremes. We are all that–or work towards it anyway. It is consuming, often tiring, but very rewarding. Our children are calm and creative, gentle and kind. They are able to hear and respond to quiet and can draw or read on end, while other children are all over the place begging to be entertained.
Alas, the fruitful experience of these early years sometimes roots us so much in this phase, that we become blind to the changing and evolving child before us. We continue to speak to them in the “kinder voice” way beyond the seventh year, even as they purposely bang on established boundaries in an effort to wake us up to who they are becoming and how their needs are changing. We cling to early childhood traditions and rituals because they comfort us, even as the child expresses that it no longer holds truth for him. What, then, are we really giving our children?
As they grow, the arms that previously enfolded and cradled them must open wider and wider, to allow them space to evolve. Our voices can stay calm but also develop a firmness they need–when appropriate–to draw them back in when they’ve gone too far, so that they can once again establish their footing. It does not serve them if we insist on offering bubbles and clouds, when what they so desperately need is a new boundary–that space where your arms used to be, that they must now learn to find and respect on their own. It is an internal space that keeps them safe and upright, until they have built the physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities to hurdle the next.This boundary is ever-changing and it is our job to help them through each one–to find the balance between too much and too little.
Difficult as it is, parenting means letting go. I’ve heard mothers speak about how they could breastfeed forever. Love it, of course, but don’t keep your child in this space if he needs to move on. My youngest weaned himself at 10 months old. Much as I loved to breastfeed and was very sad about giving it up, I had to respect his development and his cues. My first born breastfed until 16 months old, but we reached a point where it was clearly no longer a need but a compulsion. He needed comfort, which I gave by holding, touching, singing and soothing him instead. It was a difficult few days, but I was firm and loving, and he was all the better for it.
We want our children to be fully independent–free to make choices at the right age and time. We want them to be individuated, responsible human beings, capable of standing on their own and behind their beliefs. To achieve this, we need to widen the circle of our embrace, step back, let their wings unfold and encourage them to fly, in whatever direction they choose. It happens everyday over many moons and it requires that we see them clearly, respect their process and cast aside our sentimental attachments. It is most helpful to know where we stand, where we end, and where they begin. Mothering is recognizing when we are holding our children back out of our own personal need, whatever that may be. It is so difficult to do this and we are mostly asleep or in denial about it. But if we want to prepare our children to be fully engaged adults, we must strive to make self-reflection (and consequent action) a constant practice.
As soon as they become adolescents and young adults, we step further back and recognize that they now have a voice and it must be heard, understood and given value. We cannot keep them confined in a world that we created for ourselves. It was necessary for them when they were little, but no longer. It is time to begin the work of releasing them into the world they are co-creating. It is time to see them ever more clearly and begin to respect the boundaries they are beginning to erect, with trust rather than fear and yes, perhaps, a full heart.
Once they are adults at last, we stand apart to support them, even (maybe, especially) if they make choices that collide with ours, knowing that we have released them gently, yet consciously, purposefully and with love, each time they needed it.