Parents at the Threshold
By Alison DeLong
My son’s first birthday was a joyous event this month. Deserving equal celebration, my husband and I toasted our glasses, in a humble honoring, for surviving our first year as parents. Stunned by the quick passage of time, I remembered last year’s pregnancy culminating in the monumentally challenging, yet amazing, homebirth.
One potent moment I will never forget. I was sitting with my watermelon belly, thinking of this unseen baby inside, when a wave of grief overcame me. I realized from this day forward my task is to let go of this being inside of me. Starting with his birth, followed by each stage in his developing independence, my job is to love and nurture while letting go all the while.
This memory surfaced recently as I sat in a circle of parents. All ten parents were facing the West of the medicine wheel, looking inward as their children were stepping out to become adults. It was my offering to hold a council that allowed a place for them to voice their experience with this intricate transition. As each of their sons and daughters began their solo in Death Valley that same morning, there was a recognition that they too stood at a threshold. Each parent knew their relationship with their child was changing, but none of them knew how it would result.
For most of these mothers and fathers, this was the first time they had spoke of their feelings around letting go. After almost 18 years of their “give away” as parents, they were now being asked to change their role. One daughter directly told her mom “I no longer want to be parented any more”. Others were less direct, by being typical teenagers- more absent and indifferent at home and clearly ready to fly from the nest.
While there were many tears shared for this loss of connection with their sons and daughters, as most prepare to leave for college, there was also revelry in the growth of their young adults. Some parents noticed that the preparation for the vision quest evoked a new maturity and presence from their once aloof sons. A new sense of respect for their parents’ experience and input seemed to be expressed, as some youth asked for help with their gear and other quest preparations. This initiation somehow offered an opening for a new type of relationship, perhaps one on the same level as equals.
Half of the circle of parents spoke of this transition as an opportunity to focus on themselves for a change. Many were applying for graduate school programs, while one father was excited to return to his neglected art work. These parents were ready to enter the North shield with a new give away. Perhaps the “empty nest” syndrome is only a grievous occasion when the parent left at home forgets to find a new expression for their gifts.
As a new parent, this was clear to me: parents need opportunities to grieve the loss of their children as they grow up and eventually go away. Community, along with a contained process to mark this transition of letting go, is essential in celebrating the amazingly unique young adults that our children are becoming. Most importantly, if parents choose the vision quest as that container, they would be able to cycle through the medicine wheel once more, re-entering the North shield with their new give away.