That dark shape in the middle of this picture is a nest. And on that nest is a mother blackbird. And under that mother blackbird was an egg that is now a baby blackbird.
We have watched over the last four weeks while the nest and its inhabitants have been thrashed about in the branches, storm-tossed by wind, drenched by rain, and pelted by hail. It is amazing that the nest has withstood the elements and that the egg and chick stayed on board. Through all of the tumult that wee mum has held relentlessly to her task.
Alfred Adler the founder of individual psychology talked of the separation of tasks between parent and child, self and other. Robert Meisner, the acting coach, famously said “What hinders your task, is your task.”
Today I found myself asking;
“What is my task in this mothering moment?”
I have just hung up on my daughter. It was quite a moment.
Let me give you the context, just the facts. Then I’ll share my reasoning, my judgement and why I’m writing this.
- This morning she has a class trip to have hot chocolates leaving school at 8:45 AM
- Her alarm did not go off
- I woke her at 6:40 AM
She freaked out, rushed, showered, breakfasted, dressed, made her lunch, put on her make-up (Put on make-up? I hear you ask. I know. I’ll get back to that.) She got it all done, well, nearly all of it.
- We have a contract that she empties the dishwasher in the morning if it’s clean — she didn’t do it
- She chose instead to put make up on
- At 8:20 AM in a panic about being late, she asked me for a ride to school
- I said no
My reasoning is that it is her task to get ready. It was her choice to prioritise time to put on make-up over time to do her contribution job and get herself to school in good time.
She leaves in a panic. 5 minutes later my phone rings. She’s freaking out on the other end. It’s an 8.5/10 freak out. This is one way she influences me; “If I freak mum will help”. It’s very effective. I don’t like it when my children are stressed, I worry about them and then I feel stress. One way to stop my stress is to stop their stress. But today I am clear about her choices. And I’m clear about mine.
She is shouting, crying, whimpering. Both of her bus cards have run out of money. We’ve been here before and agreed that it is her task to keep her bus cards topped up. I try to talk to her, to calm her, she is ranting, she won’t listen. I don’t feel like being blamed, bullied or emotionally spewed on. So I hang up.
I transfer money for her to top up her bus cards and pay for her school trip hot chocolate. I text her to tell her I’ve done that and her big sister has just left and could snap her on to the bus. But she’s not at the bus stop and does not reply to my texts.
Perhaps she is punishing me. Perhaps she would like me to worry and regret that I did not rescue her. But I am holding a line.
It is the line between her task and my task.
Her task is to learn life skills. She is learning to manage her time, to prioritise her focus, to forward plan. At 14yrs old these are appropriate life lessons. If I jump in here I will get in the way of her learning, I will be interfering in her choices and developing life skills.
My task to be a stable base. To get out of the way of her learning, so she can learn the lessons in front of her.
My task is to know the difference between our tasks.
What I have bubbling on my inner stove is my judgement about her choices. About make-up. It’s a fad at the moment and I struggle with it. I’m conflicted about make up. AND she chose make-up over our contract. But we have a consequence built into the contract; no dishwasher — no pocket money, so that is taken care of. Back to make up and my judgement.
Lurking in the back of my mind is that once when she was little – surprisingly young for this insight — she said to me “Mum, everyone is trying to teach me lessons. But I need you just to be there for me. Not to teach me lessons but just to have my back. ”
Part of me feels sick. Have I let her down?
Part of me feels steady. I am here, clear, boundaried, loving, supportive, providing.
Part of me feels guilty. I hung up on her. I hung up on her when she clearly wanted help.
Part of me feels like I did a good thing looking after myself and not sucking up what she was dumping on me . If her goal was to connect with me for support, to steady herself and draw down on my love, then she will need to learn another way.
Her task is in her hands. My task is in mine.
And now as I write, as a process to orient and come to understand more about myself, about us, about my task, I can see something that profoundly shifts my world view. To remain steady, loving, calm, and kind, I must NOT judge her. I’m must NOT judge her choice. I must NOT be punitive. I must NOT lecture her (again) about make up. I must NOT tell her “you made your choice to put make-up on and this is the consequence.” That is not my task.
She has a lesson to learn, but it is not my task to teach her that lesson.
She is doing her best, and she is learning. I am doing my best and I am learning. It is not my job to rescue my child from her learning, but to be alongside as she learns.
Here I am. I am here.