“Mom, I am so sad.”
On the way home from tax-free weekend shopping, my son, gazing out the window as we passed his old middle school, said, “Oh Mom, I’m so sad. I will miss my old middle school.” In that moment, I realized that I was sad too. His voice… his heart… pierced the armor of anxiety I had put on in order to try and just get my kids back to school.
My son has autism. He is 15 years old. He is brave. And he will full-heartedly enter a new school this year because of his ability to grieve and honor his time at his old one. Just like change is difficult for him, it’s difficult for me. It’s painful. It’s unsettling. It always will be. It’s easier to shield myself from this pain by making the school supply list or the grocery run or the after school schedule more important than it really is. My unwillingness to give space to my fear and sadness keeps me in a constant state of subtle anxiety.
In Parenting with Heart, Chip Dodd and Stephen James call this coping mechanism an impaired attempt at self-care. It’s not a badness, it just keeps me from living fully and causes me to miss the gifts. In order to live as a full-hearted parent, I want to be willing to engage in regenerative self-care by listening to the voice of my heart and acknowledging the real need I have to grieve. This acceptance also allows for the door of gladness to be opened. Gladness that my kids are another year older. Gladness that the daily rhythm of the school year has returned. Gladness that I have more freedom during the day. Not only do I want to create the space for myself to feel the sadness of change but also the celebration of new beginnings.
I know one day the chaos and anxiety of school starting will be a distant memory. As I drive into the high school parking lot to drop off my son, I will celebrate his first day of school as a freshman. And when the car door closes and he walks in, I will allow the tears to run down my cheeks. I will embrace the sadness I feel deep in my chest. I will give my heart space and time to grieve and my joy and sadness will beautifully collide. I will hold on to a precious moment, honor his journey, and live fully in the gift of my children.
Jenay Kennedy, RN, holds a BSN in Nursing and is a Registered Nurse. Twenty-one years of marriage and raising two teenage sons (one of whom has autism) has forced her to confront and grieve her own wounds, to live one day at a time and to learn the incredible value of authentic relationships and self-care. For 12 years, she has participated in and led educational and support groups centered around the Spiritual Root System.