When I was 19, I decided I needed to travel to Europe alone. I look at that now and marvel at how brave I was. Off I went with my backpack and my Eurail pass from Italy to Switzerland then onto Germany, France and then to England. I was shaky through the first part of the trip – too much time listening to my inner critics telling me about my perceived shortcomings – but at some point, those nagging voices faded in favor of a more loving inner commentary. Instead of a constant diatribe, I found myself thinking, “It’s okay. You are not alone. People are all around to help you. Just ask them.” And I did. Sometimes in tears when I was lost and they literally walked me to the correct bus stop, or with trepidation when the hostel was closed and they guided me to another place to stay. All in all, that six-week trip to Europe taught me that people as a rule are decent and good and are willing and able to help. A wonderful lesson for a girl who for some reason felt the need to make a foreign trek with no family or friends in tow.
If one of my daughters told me she was going off to do what I did, I’d be filled with anxiety. What if someone hurt her or took advantage of her? What if she found herself injured or lost with nobody there to aid her? And yet, my own mother didn’t bat an eye when I said I wanted to go alone. She just nodded and said, “That sounds wonderful.”
I have learned a great deal from my mother in terms of how to provide supportive reactions to my children. I think about her responses to the various exploits in my life and try to emulate her reactions with my own kids. “Oh, I think that’s great,” I might say, just as she said, even though there is a part of me nervous about the possible outcomes. “I trust you to make the right decision,” might be my response when in truth I might really want to jump in and say, “Do it this way.”
Yes, my mother mastered the art of encouragement without ever putting herself into the mix. She never once complained when I moved my family to California from Texas even though I know she was very sad at her personal loss. Instead, she said, “This gives me another great place to visit,” and those words gave me permission to pursue whatever dreams I might have.
Not that Mom was perfect. She did reveal her shock when I called after only a year of marriage and said, “We have news.” She wasn’t quite ready to hear we had a baby on the way when we were still trying to figure out how we were going to make a decent living, but even with that, she righted herself quickly and said, “I can’t wait to meet my new grandchild.”
Yes, that trip to Europe was one of those experiences that taught me to trust myself and to recognize the interconnectedness we all share as human beings. I could have learned those lessons in other ways, I’m sure I would have over time, but for some reason I needed to put myself in what might be thought of as a difficult situation to gain those truths. I am grateful that I had a mother that allowed me to discover what I needed to learn in my way and in my time. I strive to do the same for my children. After all, one gift deserves another.
But now I know exactly how my mother reacted once she closed her front door or hung up the telephone. “Oh dear Lord,” I can hear her say quietly, “I just hope she’ll be all right.”
2 Comments Add yours
Thanks for this advice. With a 17yo living with us now, I needed it.
Glad to be of service. I have used those same lines with my own daughters. It has been very helpful to give them the freedom they need. Hugs.