As I sit here in the freshness of the New Year I also find myself at an uncomfortable threshold in my effort as a mother. Rowen is 19 months old now and we are accelerating through this transition from "baby" to "big kid" at an alarming rate.
According to Erik Erikson's theory of human development, around 18 months is an important time of transition in the maturation of a child. It's the point where the child begins to explore their independence and autonomy.
From birth until recently, accommodating Rowen's needs and providing consistent care were key practices to aid him in founding a trusting and secure sense of self and an underlying belief that the world in general is safe. During this time I happily filled the role of the selfless servant, more or less, regularly putting aside my needs for sleep, comfort, connection, entertainment, or relaxation all as an offering to establish this fundamental sense of trust and security.
As the months passed I certainly felt more threadbare and worn, and I felt myself eager for a change in our dynamic around 15 months. I wanted a shift that was more centered on cooperation and collaboration between Rowen and I, while minimizing the accommodation of his needs.
In reality, this shift began long ago, when Rowen was 6 or 7 months old. Our evolving relationship since that time turned out to be a hugely clarifying process. It required me to create and embrace more structure, be more predictable, and to be certain and clear in my expectations. But still, the early days and much of the months that followed were more importantly an introduction to how big I could love. To love with abandon, a pure love with no pretext, storylines, or expectations. Through the nature of our evolving relationship latent parts of myself were brought back to life. The good bits like clarity, certainty, purpose, personal power, contentment, patience, and presence to name a few. Everything felt golden.
On the one hand I can see clearly how the early tending to Rowen has payed off in spades. He is a charming, thoughtful, helpful, kind, creative, intelligent, content, and a mature little fellow. Full hearted and secure. For that I am so grateful!
However, it's this grey zone now that I feel so stuck in. 'Tis the time on his path for claiming his independence and exploring his world. I am supposed to be holding the line with a loving firmness. This transition in his needs requires me to change my behavior in ways I did not foresee. I sense a boldness, assertiveness, self respect, and emotional intelligence within me all needing attention now in this new terrain. It's calling for further growth in my ability to communicate, be patient and to have certainty in my decisions. Wow, does that take courage and a whole lot of energy! It's not even a pile of tantrums over here either, it's much more subversive and seemingly minor. But all of these moments add up to a mountain and I suddenly find the line I was supposed to be holding is blowing in the wind.
Right now I feel like this 'mindful parenting as a spiritual practice' is kicking my ass and I'm thinking to myself "damn, parenting is difficult!"
Part of me wants to crawl back into the warm, cozy nest of the early days when the breast, a fresh diaper, or a good nap could fix anything. But in reality it's time that I take flight, re-individuate and explore myself in the world right alongside Rowen. I feel pushed from the nest, my little wings flapping, but gravity feels like it's still winning.
In our best moments we lock our gazes and share a moment of stillness and I can hear from him a soul whisper that says: "you know this is all for play, right? I'm just being the toddler and you're just acting the mommy." I feel into the eternal storyline of all that it means to be a family and in that moment my heart becomes light and I know what to do next.
P.S. If you are curious for further information on Erik Erikson's theory on human development click here.