Two months after my nineteenth birthday I became a statistic; a teenage single mother. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. My life plan up to that point had been to work just enough so I had money for beer, cigarettes and some new clothes every once in awhile. If there was a big party on a Saturday night and I couldn’t get off work, I would quit my job. I felt that I could always get another job, but I never wanted to miss a great party. (I’m still not convinced that this is a bad philosophy)
At any rate, there I was the year after graduating high school with a baby to raise. My family was supportive, and my parents let me stay at home with my son. My mom babysat on weekends when I worked the overnight shift waitressing at our local House of Pancakes.
This went on for the first year of my son’s life. I leaned heavily on my mother . As much as I loved my son, the thought of building a life for us on my own was something beyond my comprehension. I didn’t believe I would ever be able to do it. As long as my parents were willing to let me stay there and keep me from facing my fears, I was more than willing to ignore them.
But one day my mother sat me down for a talk. She told me that she felt I was leaning on her too much and that I needed to move out and start life on my own.
I was flabbergasted! How dare she?! What kind of mother throws out her daughter and grandchild?!
I swore to myself that she would never see me or her grandchild again. I might have even passive aggressively let her know that this was my plan. ( I definitely did)
With resentment and anger, I did what I was terrified of but was being forced to do. I found an apartment. I got a full time job and child care.
I worked downtown, which involved car, bus and train travel, so my days were exhausting. They started early and ended late. But after awhile I began to realize something; a situation that had caused me shame and embarrassment (unwed teenage mother) was becoming a source of pride. I was twenty years old and supporting myself and my son, something I thought I would never be able to do. We were far from rich, but we certainly weren’t poor. We were making it, and I was doing it.
Before my mother passed away we had several discussions regarding this time in our lives. She told me how hard it was to ask me to leave, but she knew it was what she needed to do. She knew it was best for me and my son. I thanked her many times for having the courage to make me face my fears and take responsibility for my own life.
Now that I’m a mother of adult children I appreciate even more the strength and love it took for her to make that decision. As mothers, our instincts are always to shield our children from pain. We tend to go overboard in our caretaking and sweep up the pieces of our children’s messes in our desire to alleviate suffering.
But from this experience I learned that sometimes when we think we are helping we are really crippling. We should never be the shelter that keeps our children from facing their fears and responsibilities. That’s not our job.
My mother gave me a life lesson that sticks with me to this day; running from our fears only strengthens them. The only way to truly alleviate a fear is to face it head on. When we do that, life often offers us a surprising gift; pride and self-confidence take the place where fear used to sit.