I’ve had this post mulling around in my head for a while, and when I sat down to write it, I looked out my front window, a beautifully big picture window that overlooks our town, the side of the mountain our town is set upon and through which I can see the glory of God in the skies every day.
This view is to the right of my my front yard, to the left is the town nestled below me (I live on a hill) and as I looked out my window this evening, it was that time of day called ‘the golden hour’, when the evening sun bathes the world in that beautiful, golden glow that you could just bask in forever, and you wish it would just stay like that. But this window of time is brief, and disappears as you watch. As I saw the swathe of golden light wash over the roofs below me and fade quickly, it struck me how this moment in time visually represented the stage of my parenting journey I’m currently living.
My eldest son left home two weeks ago, to enlist in the Australian Army, his dream since he was about 4 years old (and we have the photos to prove it!). We spent the last few weeks buying everything he needed, making sure all the required paperwork was completed, nagging him about the jobs around the house he needed to do before he left and having many, many conversations about all things of life. All the time I was wishing for more time, wishing for so many do-overs, realising there was so much in my parenting that I had made big deals of that just weren’t big deals, I could have let go for the sake of building our relationship rather than having to exert my authority and demand respect. So many times I disengaged and put my needs first. So many reactions from my own emotions that I know have left their mark. So many things that reflect my broken human-ness and complete and utter imperfection.
I’m not beating myself up over any of this, I’ve healed from the shame and guilt and sense of failure that has embedded itself in my parenting over the years. I’ve never strived to be a perfect parent as such, but a misunderstood drive for perfection and subsequent sense of failure has crippled me so many times in my life, and fortunately the past couple of years have brought increasing freedom and peace from the weight of condemnation, myself being my own worst critic. My parenting is of course still far from perfect, but it does involve a lot less yelling and much more listening and thinking before I respond, lots and lots of breathing and a desire to show grace rather than enforce consequences just because I can.
All this to say that as my eldest son was the subject of my first venture into parenting, he was the one for whom I made so many mistakes as I learnt how to be a mum. But my God is in the business of healing and redemption, and as I grew in God I grew into the mum I am now (a process that will continue for life, I’m sure), and our relationship healed as he grew into a young adult, deepening as he started his own adventure into adulthood and for me this made it so much more bittersweet as I counted down to his leaving home. Realising how much would be the same but different, as we all found our new ‘normal’.
That was my golden hour with him. The time of our life together – when I was still responsible for him as a parent – that felt bathed in love and understanding and grace and compassion, and I loved every minute of it. It was the time where I still had opportunity to invest time and emotion and energy into him while he was home, to pour into him and hopefully influence him in ways that would equip him for adulthood, to speak life and God and love into him and hope that was greater than all that came out when my less-than-stellar parenting took over. The golden hour that was all too short, and over all too soon.
I am so very grateful that was how that stage of our life together as mother and son ended, that that was the foundation we built that the next phase of our relationship will grow on, more as equals and friends than parent and child. I am so proud of this child of mine who is fully embracing his life and all that it is offering him, I’m proud of us as parents for raising the boy into the man he is now (and that he can cook, clean, iron and generally organise himself!), that he is respectful and kind and compassionate and takes responsibility for his actions because that is what we value in our family. And yet I do feel sadness for opportunities lost, the time I can’t get back or re-do, the mistakes and hurts that I can’t undo, that I can’t make our golden hour longer. That’s the nature of life I suppose, celebrating our successes and mourning our losses, and accepting that both come by virtue of living and breathing.
I have learnt to focus on the joy more than the sorrow, to learn from my mistakes and do better next time (without aiming for perfect). My daughter and youngest son are reaping the benefits of my lessons learned the first time round, they know my presence and listening ear more than my distraction and raised voice, are far more likely to find me next to them on the couch than being busy elsewhere and know that they can come to me with anything, without fear of criticism or judgement. It feels like this time in their lives is already the golden hour, as much as I still get things wrong and need to apologise and ask their forgiveness. After my relationship with God, the time spent plugging in to them and sowing into their lives is the greatest investment I am making at the moment, the most important use of my time and energy and I am so glad I know this now, and not as they’re getting ready to leave home.
Knowing what I know now, what would I say to my younger self? Breathe. Keep remembering to breathe. Pray first, then speak. Most of what seem like the big things aren’t really that big a deal, and a grace-filled response will always have more effect than a raised voice or harsh words. Your kids want you, just you, your time and your presence more than anything else, more than any thing or experience. Spending time being more than doing is better for everyone. Time spent without a specific purpose gives life to everyone. Rest is good. No-one expects you to be perfect, so why should you? And for that matter, what does it matter what anyone else thinks? Whose opinion is more important, theirs or God’s? The big things that you know are important, they are worth standing your ground and fighting for, investing your time and energy into. When you feel angry or upset at your kids (or anyone else), ask yourself why, because it’s usually more about you than them. Laugh about something every. single. day. Go looking for adventures, starting with your own backyard. Be spontaneous and do the things that seem inconvenient and messy, it’s worth it! Spend as much time as possible outside – even when it’s wet and cold. Make the effort now even when you don’t feel like it, because you have no idea of the effect it will have later. Give your kids as much affection as they will let you, especially as they get older. The more you listen when they’re little, the more they’ll talk when they’re older. Don’t stop reading to them when they can do it themselves. Always, always, always let love be your guide. Be love, do love, live love.
There is so much more I could add to this list, so much more I wish I knew then but have learnt and know now. I certainly don’t know everything and don’t have all the answers by any means, I have grown from being encouraged and supported by people who love me, so if I can encourage even one mum by sharing my hard-learned lessons, then it’s been worth it. Make your golden hour last as long as possible, it truly is a beautiful time.