This past week, we took a family vacation to a lake in Northern Minnesota. It was one of the best vacations we have had as a family in quite a while. Maybe because there wasn't wifi or cell service, or even a tv. It was a great time to relax, reset, and reconnect as a family.
While we were floating in the water and I was watching my boys play, I had a lot of time to think and reflect on what it really means to be a mother. I love being a mom, but I have to admit that this wasn't always the case, and sometimes it is still really hard. When my boys were younger, it was a struggle. When they were crying for no apparent reason, or couldn't be reasoned with as toddlers, it was a really stressful time for me. On the Enneagram personality scale, I am a type 9 - the "peacemaker". The key motivations of a type nine are "to create harmony in their environment, to avoid conflicts and tension, to preserve things as they are, to resist whatever would upset or disturb them." I like to be able to fix things, make people happy, comfort people, and there were times when it wasn't really possible and I just had to allow the boys to have their moments of discomfort. Now that my oldest is in the midst of adolescence and middle school, I find that we are revisiting this fact that sometimes there will be periods of discomfort and trials in life, and that I can't really do much to fix that except for being there and walk through the discomfort with him.
To me, this is what motherhood is: holding space for our children as they experience life. As Lynn Hauka explains, "holding space for another person is incredibly profound. When you hold space for someone, you bring your entire presence to them. You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support. And when you do, both of you heal, grow, and transform."
Motherhood is not about how often you help out in the classroom, making the perfect birthday cake, or getting your children the latest and greatest gadget. It is about being present for your child in the midst of their struggles and their accomplishments. It isn't about fixing everything and taking away all of the pain, it is about walking through that pain with them and allowing them to realize that with someone in their corner, they may have the strength to find the answers within themselves.
Sounds super easy, right?! The best way to master holding space for someone is to practice. Practice when the stakes aren't so high, like when your child is telling you about a game they like or a funny thing that happened at school. Turn off your phone and turn your attention fully into your child. Ask questions, dig deeper, bring your mind back to what they are saying if it wanders off (and don't judge yourself, it happens to everyone!). Keep practicing in the little moments, and when a big one comes along, you will be ready and your kids will feel safe and secure knowing that you are able to be fully present for them. You’ll empower them to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes, grow their courage, and deepen their confidence.
Jennifer Tougaw is a licensed social worker in private practice in Denver, Colorado.