Being a parent is the ultimate test for (and proof of) anyone’s resolve, endurance, patience, capacity to love unconditionally, faith, ability to let go, ability to trust life, creativity, ability to hold difficult conversations, skills in navigating emotional landmines, confidence, capacity for compassion, and to regulate one’s own emotions. Whew! Now, take a deep breath. This is definitely not a role to be taken lightly. Do not attempt to take on this role when you are not ready. You cannot be willy-nilly about it. Sure, there are circumstances where you are forced to take on this role whether you are ready or not, like it or not, signed up for it or not. But the fact remains, you can still ace it if you are willing to learn the lessons. Just bring a box of tissues (or a towel) and a first-aid kit to handle any scrapes and burns, as well as some protein-rich snacks to sustain your energy and give you endurance.
By the way, this has been the toughest course I have ever enrolled in. It is called “Single Mother 101.” Honestly, I was not sure if I was qualified to take it, but I got enrolled automatically in 1999, and have been learning all kinds of lessons ever since. I couldn’t drop it even if my GPA was at an all-time low, and I couldn’t quit even when I failed. I am in this course indefinitely and there will be no certificate of completion to be handed to me even if my GPA improves.
Here’s the course description in a nutshell. The lessons start with easy ones in the beginning where you will get rewarded a lot—a time when you receive sweet hugs and kisses and many “I love you mommy” and “you’re the best mommy in the whole world” sentiments. But when it comes to the teenage years and beyond, things get more interesting and challenging. The good news is you are allowed to repeat any lessons until you feel you master it—at that particular time. As for the final grade, it will probably not be revealed until you die. However, rewards and recognitions are given now and then to keep you going. Good feelings and satisfaction do emerge from time to time where you may be compelled to belt out, “Love is a many splendored thing!” Do not expect you will be able to finish the chorus; it can easily switch to, “Oops, I did it again!” before it ends. So just enjoy it while it lasts and let go of any expectations.
Always enter the course with a beginner’s mind, no agenda other than to experience it, and no judgement no matter what the experience is like. Oh, and you will need much good luck and many prayers from anyone around you. So network, network, network.
Did I mention that your professor doesn’t look legitimate at all? That is because your own child is the professor, hired by God for eternity. Don’t bother asking for a syllabus as he/she doesn’t know what it is, and frankly, they don’t give a damn. So how do you know what you’re going to learn? You don’t. It changes every day without advance notice and class is never cancelled. So, dress appropriately, take care of yourself, mind your manners, and show up every single day. That’s it. Oh, and be present. Be very, very present. You can ask questions, but for the love of God, do not engage in a power struggle by arguing back and forth. It never ends well. Just remember that each lesson is uniquely designed for your personal education at a particular time. It is highly individualized. Sure there are some similarities among the teachings, but the specific dynamics between the student and the teacher cannot be duplicated.
I will, however, share with you some basic guidelines. It’s not complete or perfect or 100% accurate, but it’s something. First, as scary as this course sounds, you can survive it. Look, I’m still here, relatively sane, and am still able to function in the real world, gaining real success. So I think I am qualified to share some of the key points that I’ve used myself to continue taking this course for as long as I shall live. Consider the following:
1. If you find yourself in this course, accept the fact and trust that you can handle the lessons, the homework, and the tests. Might as well get comfortable because you’re in it for the long haul. Quit checking your watch. Throw away your calendar. Class is in session 24/7, 365 days a year. Got it?
2. Trust your teacher(s). They have been chosen to teach important lessons for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth—so they are the perfect teacher for you, not for your comfort but your growth, which by default is uncomfortable. Lack of sleep? Dazed and confused? Acting like a crazy woman on steroids? Questioning God’s state of mind when placing this teacher in your life? Yeah, been there, done that. It’s okay. Class goes on…
3. Learn mindfulness. Get to know yourself well to the point where you don’t question who you are anymore when the class in challenging. Remember, you’re not aiming to get good grades, or becoming the teacher’s pet, or getting their approval, or avoid making them upset. You’re there to learn ways to manage your emotions, to trust your instinct, to love unconditionally, to persevere, to visualize the ideal teacher and classroom, and to stay in a state of gratitude at all times. Thank the teacher, be thankful for the lessons, and thank yourself for being a diligent student.
4. Learn to forgive the teacher and yourself over and over again. It is hard enough to be a parent when things are going relatively well; it is especially hard when there have been traumas involved that will impact the teacher’s style of teaching and relating to the student.
5. Don’t ever compare yourself to other parents. Everyone has their own circumstance while taking this course, has a specific teacher, and learns different lessons designed just for them. Have compassion for your own struggles, love yourself, and accept that failures are part of learning.
6. And lastly, don’t stop learning outside this class. Be proactive. Stay curious. Find additional resources to get more information, support, and validation. Sometimes when your GPA is low, it is hard to feel good about yourself; it is hard to see your own progress. Take other fun classes and cultivate a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment by focusing on doing well in other easier classes such as work or career, financial security, lasting friendship, and serious self-care.
That said, try to get as comfortable as you can. Taking this course can be the most daring adventure you’ll ever take in your entire life. People say the biggest reward is waiting for you in heaven. No confirmation yet from those who are already in heaven!
What’s the most challenging chapter this course covers? Depends on who you ask. But for me it was letting go of control. It’s even harder because I am a counselor and my tendency is to give advice, to correct some distorted thinking patterns by applying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy coupled with mindfulness. Most people will be grateful for my intervention. Yet, if my child is doing math (metaphorically speaking) and argues that in her mind, 5 plus 5 equals 8, and I know that it is 10, it takes all my strength not to correct her. To trust that she’d figure that out someday. To trust that if she suffers from being wrong, she will be able to handle the consequences. To trust that all will be well. To let go of the need to protect her from pain, to be able to focus on my own life and happiness while being aware of her incorrect math—that, my friend, is extremely difficult.
At the end of the day, just being able to stay sane while taking this course is rewarding enough. Seeing the teacher succeed in teaching me something is satisfying. Having a good relationship with my teacher and having positive interactions with her the majority of the time is like experiencing heaven on earth. What more can one want?