One totally unexpected reward of this way of life I’ve named ‘recovery parenting’ came to me a few weeks ago while having lunch with my youngest son “Sammy” and his girlfriend of three years, a lovely girl I’ll call “Lori.” (My sons and I have a deal that their real names and those of their significant others aren’t used in my blogs or books). Sammy asked me to meet the two of them at a restaurant because he had something important to tell me. Of course, I worried the whole 24 hours beforehand, expecting the worst. Certainly, I feared, Sammy had failed his second to last semester of college, or Lori was pregnant and they didn’t know what to do about it.
Happily I was wrong on both counts.
“I asked Lori to marry me,” Sammy said with a grin on his face before we even ordered lunch. “And she said yes.” Then he reached over to take Lori’s hand in his lap.
“Oh!” I finally blurted out. “That’s wonderful!” Of course this wasn’t my first reaction. That was…“But you don’t have a job. Followed by…“My God, you’re too young (25 and 23) to get married.” Fortunately, I said neither. Some part of me knew that Sammy and I had just passed a fabulous milestone. We had reached at a point in our lives where Sammy was making choices about his own happiness. There was no crisis. There was cause for joy…how completely, utterly unexpected. Could I even handle it?
Just three years earlier, when Sammy had been paralyzed by social anxiety and depression, this scene would have been unthinkable.
In the time that has passed since those anxious days and nights, Sammy has made steady progress (although not in a straight line, there have been setbacks) towards learning how to handle the pressure and demands of a science major. He has also discovered his love of laboratory research and, most recently, his ability to network among other aspiring and established scientists to advance his prospects. All of this approaches miraculous in the eyes of a mother like me. Pride doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings.
I share this story to set out the challenges and rewards of recovery parenting. I can sum it up like this: being there for your kids when they really need your help, and knowing when to let go when they’re okay. More than okay, actually. I’m only now beginning to understand a truly unexpected payoff from all the trials we’ve been through as a family: the emotional sensitivity Sammy has acquired. He’s been down so much himself he sees the trials of others much more clearly. And as a result he has an ability to empathize with others who suffer in the same or other ways. This will be an invaluable ability in his life and work—no matter what he chooses to do.
My biggest task at this celebratory lunch was to simply take in and enjoy the positive results of all our hard work as a family.
Happy Mothers Day to each of you.