My mother always said, “Your children are who you are when you have them.”
I found out I was pregnant with my oldest son when I was 19. I was in college and was an absolutely rule-bound control freak, which was my weapon of choice in the fight against my own insecurity. I worked my hardest to use the rules to excel at everything and to please everyone by meeting every expectation that I pre-assumed people had of me. I embraced “know your audience,” and had every detail planned down to the letter to be able to give people what they wanted. I spent my life planning for the worst and delivering the best.
At twenty years of age, I gave birth to Kendall, a very rule-bound baby boy, and it scared me to death. I reassured him that he could chart his own path and trust himself to be more than “the rules.” I tried to equip him with self-confidence. Then something interesting happened: I noticed that he gave more of himself than he expected of others. And where my sense of perfection and pleasing were born of fear and control, his was born of freedom to love and help. He may have been who I was to begin with, but he was blossoming into his own person and escaping the struggle of insecurity for both of us.
My second son came over a decade later. By then I had figured out what I was made of. I had overcome so many kinds of adversity, from public assistance to eviction. Even after life had pushed hard at this single mom with a failed relationship, I pushed back even harder and rebuilt a beautiful life in the Midwest. I was much more self-reliant, but I was also more solitary. I locked my heart away as a means of protection, was too quick to cut people off, and at times my newfound independence became a problem within itself.
I stressed about decisions, and the anxiety I thought I’d left in my 20s came back with a vengeance. I had people in my corner, but I was much too reluctant to call out for help—even when I really needed it. Kaleb was born with an independent streak and a level of persistence I’d never encountered. Answers had to be FIRM with him because anything he perceived as a non-answer was asked again fifty-leven times.
Kaleb was dogged in the biblical sense, but he was a loner. And though he was friends with everyone, he didn’t trust anyone to really be his friend. With encouragement, he found his people, and they all went off to school together. This year he went to college without a car, much to his chagrin. He is learning the importance of depending on his friends and enjoying the ride with those people who matter most to him. He will be a great friend, committed to not just giving to others but allowing others to be a friend to him, which is sometimes the hardest part.
Now, I’ve come to realize what it was that my mother really meant. Though blind to my own shortcomings, I could easily detect every flaw in my children. In teaching them to grow beyond their faults and to challenge their behaviors, I grew along with them. And now, alongside the young men I’ve raised, stands the woman I’ve raised. This nest isn’t empty—a beautiful phoenix lives here. She has shaken off insecurity, anxiety, and hyper-independence; and she is rising into her potential and a beautiful life.