“Ma, please call me when you get a chance,” was all the cryptic message had to say. Frankly, the brevity was pretty typical of most of the missives I receive from my 32-year-old son. He’s pretty much a chip off his Dad’s old block when it comes to non-spoken conversation or phone messaging; he cuts straight to the chase. If this had been simply a casual hello, he’d have either left no message or have said, “Hi, Ma. Just wanted to say I love you,” and hung up.
This message read “urgent” to me. Despite knowing it was the middle of the day and I might easily catch him in the middle of an office call, I did what I usually avoided and called him back immediately.
To my surprise, he picked up after the first ring, “Ma?” he queried. “What’s wrong, Honey?” I immediately responded, totally without ceremony or grace, as moms are wont to do. His response was brief, “Well, I just want to talk to you about something, but I’ll need to call you back in about fifteen. Is that okay?”
Naturally, I agreed, but by then I was becoming more and more creative in my imaginings, another thing at which moms excel. He was well past the age of needing money to pay his electric bill or an overdue speeding ticket, and I’d have let him stew in his juices if he did. Yet, the more I fretted, the more likely I feared bad news. Did he have some horrible disease like lymphoma or leukemia…
When the phone rang, my voice probably trembled, but I sang out my perkiest, “Hi, Son! What’s up?”
Fortunately for me, his health remained perfect and his fiscal condition was in fine shape, as well, but to my “baby boy,” life as he knew it was a shambles. The beautiful young lady whom he’d been seeing for almost a year and to whom he was almost prepared to offer an engagement ring had just suddenly (or so it seemed to him) decided to take a job at a hospital in another city and ended their relationship. He had never been jilted in his life, and for it to be by someone whom he genuinely loved and cared about was earth shattering. This full-grown, sophisticated young man of the world wanted to know if he could come home for a three-day weekend and have some alone time with Mom and Dad.
It had been at least fourteen years since he’d wanted to come home just for solace. “Come on home, Baby. Mama is always here for you. You can talk all you want, or be by yourself as much as you want. I’ll cook whatever you want, or we’ll take you to eat whatever you want. I’ll also put those nice fuzzy sheets you like on your bed upstairs.”
You see, he didn’t need anyone to solve his problem. I couldn’t have done that, no matter how hard I tried. Trust me- The instinct was there! I wanted to call that young lady up and say, “Girl, what on earth were you thinking? Just three weeks ago you were telling me how happy you were. I’d like to know how you think anyone could do better Yada, yada, yada.”
Can you imagine if I’d done that? First of all, my son would have never come to me again, and, second, I’d have blown any possible chance of reconciliation for them. The relationship and its issues are his. If he asks advice, I can offer it. Otherwise, I had to stay out of it. My role is that of Mother, comforter, soft place to fall, and warm shoulder to cry on.
Obviously, I was thrilled to know my son’s life was not in peril, but I was as heartbroken as if that young lady That’s impossible to explain to anyone who has not experienced parenthood in one capacity or another. The bond I feel for my children was not cut when the umbilical cord was severed at their births nor when I weaned them from my breast. Neither was it broken when they graduated from college or when they finally established their own homes and careers. Nothing can dissolve it.
However, my objective is not to address the all-consuming power of parental love.
I speak only of this impenetrable maternal bond to explain how difficult it was for me to surrender my role as “fixer” for my children.
From the day each of them was born, I was the one who kissed all the “boo-boos” away, mended the broken toys, found all the lost books, helped with all the school projects, soothed all the hurt feelings, and the list goes on. Please don’t misunderstand me. My children had a very wonderful Daddy who played a key role in their lives, but he travelled extensively with his work, while I was the one who was home for the carpools, the homework, the daily discipline, the day-to-day living. Later, when they were in high school, he was home much more, but for their early lives, as I said, Mama was the “fixer.”
Without my even realizing it, I became very comfortable with this role. I enjoyed being the hero. Those three little people needed me. As they got older, I was so thrilled to have teenagers who still “liked” me and even brought their friends around our house. Mine were such darn good kids, too. People frequently commented on their manners, and parents would tell me how glad they were to have them as friends for their children. Now, before I break my arm patting myself on the back, let me be the first to acknowledge that these weren’t angels that I raised. Far from it, but, of course, you know what I did about that, of course, don’t you?
Yep, I fixed it! Oh, I didn’t do anything illegal! But I did some insane things. I once attended classes for two days to take notes and make nice with my daughter’s professors while she recovered from a hospital stay that need never have occurred. Another time I convinced the bursar to allow my son to withdraw passing from a class he’d simply stopped attending because he hated it. Another daughter was about to move out of an apartment she’d shared with a friend who was (to put it mildly) a pig, and I took off and spent and entire day of leave scrubbing and hauling out filth and horror, including the girl’s used condoms, to the dumpster, so my daughter could get her deposit back. The problem is that I continued this behavior long after they were grown. They’d call for help, and I’d come running.
Can you say “enabler”? In my efforts to show my children love and compassion, I had created adults who always expected an escape valve for every crisis with a big red label called “Mama.”
Having someone to love you, having someone to go to, having someone to believe in you is a spiritual necessity. I wouldn’t deny that to anyone, especially not my children or my grandchildren. I’d die for any single one of them. This is not what I’m talking about here. The mistake I made was in stealing their self dependence from them. Above all, they needed to believe in themselves. They need to believe in the tools, the spiritual gifts, I presented them,
Finally, when I realized the price that not only my children were paying by my not allowing them to “fix” their own problems, but the price it had also exacted upon me, I began demurring when they called. My oldest daughter took it hardest. She accused me of deserting her in her hour of need, and my old nature reared its guilt-ridden head and wanted to apologize and go running to her, but I held fast. I told her, “Honey, you have a husband now. Let him be your best friend.” She didn’t need me to come to the hospital every time she had a urinary infection. I lived ten hours away. We could keep in touch by phone. She could decide on her own course of treatment.
I realized had done what I had long promised myself I would avoid: I had become what I did. The danger in becoming what you DO is that, when you no longer DO, YOU aren’t.
I didn’t create that bit of wisdom. It’s been around for the ages. However, I did live it out, and I did learn from it. I have now discovered the joy of being more than what I do. I must be the sum total of my p arts, and, when I think I think of it, that it is so much more interesting!
So, when my son came home, we went to a movie. I made his favorite dishes, and I fixed a pair of his favorite dress pants. He talked when he felt like talking. We went to church together on Sunday, and when he left that afternoon he hugged us both a little harder than usual. He looked better, too. The hurt was still there, but the rawness wasn’t nearly so sharp. No, I really couldn’t fix it, but I could be his Mama, and no one else could do that. That’s what he needed. and that’s how I could be more than what I could do.
Be a friend. Be a sister. Be a brother. Be all you can possibly BE. That’s so much, much more than you can DO!