By Kairis Chiaji
In an instant my entire being was consumed. I thought I knew what love was. I truly loved his father unconditionally. But this, this was something so big my mind could hardly contain it. Suddenly, I had an inkling of the heart it took to “sacrifice His only Begotten Son.” Now I had one of my own. Dangers like homelessness, survival statistics for black males, and being “on call” 24/7 became very real. So did my relationship with my Creator. Something this precious deserved more than my inadequate best. I needed a God who would shore up the difference between who I was and what my baby boy needed in a mother.
I progressed from 6cm to 10cm in half an hour. Five minutes later (completing an unheard of first-time total of 4.5 hours active labor), I had a son. I should have known then how amazing my firstborn would be. Back then “six-three” were pounds and ounces; 21 years later it’s feet and inches. My heart still nearly bursts from my chest when I think of the strapping young man-mountain finishing up his junior year at a university. All I did was blink and the babe I held to my breast can now lift me off the ground with all the effort of an afterthought. As impressive as he is in stature, that is not the source of my pride. Neither is it his compassion, his zeal for justice, his musical ability, nor the seriousness in which he takes his role as “big brother.” The most amazing thing about Dwight Jaron Sanders is his Christ walk. One need only be in his presence for a matter of moments before his outloud zeal and commitment to winning souls for the Kingdom of God becomes evident. God has indeed answered my prayer to fill my son with everything I didn’t have in me at 21 years old.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I had been warned about age 9 being a preview of age 12 (but nobody told me the testiness didn’t stop at 10). I taught parenting classes for my county for years. In theory I understood that from age 12 to 16, adolescent brains are undergoing major reconstruction, leaving teens incapable of being content for very long, and good decision making skills seem often to escape them. I had even studied enough human development to know that the part of the brain that controls risk assessment isn’t fully developed until age 25. So those tumultuous junior high and early high school years were to be expected. There were details I couldn’t have predicted (like the pet rat he somehow tricked me into keeping in our home, or the time he decided to run away barefooted to McDonalds) any more than I could have pre-determined my son’s personality before he was born. Fortunately we have a strong family and support circle built intentionally for those times as well as celebratory occasions. I still become emotional at the memory of Dwight’s Rites of Passage ceremony at age 15 where we, his community, welcomed and accepted him as a young adult. At 17 he traveled alone to Central America where he volunteered in clinics in Honduras, providing medical care for people entrenched in poverty he had never before witnessed. That experience was only surpassed by his work with Hatian refugees, counseling teen boys through the anger and frustration of their circumstances, the following year. By the time he left for college, being 3,000 miles from home didn’t seem so intimidating.
There have been many ups and downs as I learned how to parent an adult child. My son has been patient through my learning curve. Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to apologize for all of the mistakes I made during his childhood. The grace with which he received my apology stopped and restarted my heart. That will be the smile I wear in heaven.
The greatest challenge in parenting wasn’t the terrible twos, the teen years, or anything in between. The most difficult part of parenting in our 21-year commitment (my parents are laughing out loud as they think of how many times I’ve moved back home) is learning how to stop. True mastery is when a parent understands that their child is no longer a child. For all of us future and present “empty nesters,” here are a few tips that will ease your transition from motherhood to mother:
Trust that God’s plan for your son or daughter is better than anything you could dream for him or her. Nothing your offspring does is going to catch Him by surprise. Even more encouraging, He knows exactly how many mistakes they need to make in order to come to a place of fulfilling their purpose. In short, God’s got this! It is difficult to stay out of the Lord’s way, but when we strip it down to basics, children are a gift we get to experience. Ultimately they belong not to mom, but to the Father.
Allow your young adult to experience their consequences. Detachment is probably the most difficult skill to practice. As caregivers it’s difficult to watch loved ones go through difficult situations. The good news is detaching is not the same as being uncaring. It simply means you no longer take the actions that assist your children in keeping a bad habit. A 16-year-old whose mother pays their speeding tickets will continue to get tickets. A 16-year-old whose parents take the car keys still gets tickets, but they are the kind for the city bus.
Don’t expect your child to have the sense you took a lifetime to collect. Smart children are a blessing. Sometimes this causes us to have unrealistic expectations. It is only when that intelligence is added to life experience that true wisdom is born. Everyone has the right to make mistakes and the responsibility to learn from them. It makes perfect sense to you to pay bills before buying a new pair of shoes. An impulsive, first-time paycheck earner might have to go a week or two with a disconnected cell phone to garner that same priority. They will learn (if you let them instead of rescuing). As the elders are fond of saying, “Just keep living.”
Your child pulling away is a good thing. Parenting books don’t tell us our children will come with opinions – at age 6 months or sometimes sooner. We have to figure that out on our own. Still, the first five years are nice because we are infallable as far as our babies are concerned. As they get older they start to believe they are smarter, but they are generally still subject to our authority. Toward the end of childhood and often sooner, young people begin to exercise their own logic and reasoning. They may even confound us by presenting logical arguments against our rules and traditions. It doesn’t feel good and the authoritarian in us may be tempted to fight it tooth and nail. Still, it means their minds are working and it’s time to let them gain experiences that will lead them to the knowledge you want them to have. We don’t want harm for our loved ones, but we don’t want to rob them of opportunities to become whole.
Take care not to cause emotional damage with your words or actions when you experience frustration. Your child will make as many changes between age 15 and 25 as they did from age 2 to 12. The friendship you want to have with your adult child can be destroyed before it begins (and potentially the chance for any healthy relationship) when negative messages are imprisoned inside developing minds. It is said we spend our entire lives trying to recover from our relationships with our mothers, good or bad. We can be intentional in our behaviors and attitudes so that the stories our children have to tell about their experiences in our homes are positive. This will affect the kind of adult they become and how much they trust your input in facing life’s challenges.
Guard against letting your ego be larger than your child’s need for unconditional love. Big disappointments can knock even the best mother off her “A” game. Unplanned pregnancies, poor relationships, unlawful sex practices and orientation, dropping out of school, denouncing their faith, jail, drug and alcohol abuse – any of these choices can be a Christian parent’s worst nightmare. Believe it or not, these are the times we need to show the most compassion. Your response can make or break the decision to come to a place of repentance. The one thing nobody wants to explain to Jesus is why He forgave and they didn’t. Grace and mercy are two parenting tools we can’t afford to be without.
Hopefully these tips will help you have peace as you move through this next phase. As with every stage of maturation thus far, you are both moving into unchartered territory. The difference is this time you take a step back and let the young man or woman before you take the lead. Learn to trust the seeds that you have spent 18 years planting will take root in God’s time.
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6 NIV
Kairis Joy Chiaji
Co-Editor & Contributing Writer, B.L.O.G. Magazine
At 40-something Kairis is the Mother of three biological children, and four more born in her heart. She’s a Labor Coach, providing family labor support as a professional and community Doula. She approaches the world from that viewpoint; holding your hand, reminding you to relax, breathe, trusting God with your purpose, no matter what your situation is giving birth to. She’s a volunteer teacher for homeless women, a project manager for a pregnant teen mentoring program, on two non-profit Boards, and a praise dancer. She also has a passion for natural beauty; a self-employed, self-proclaimed natural hair artist, escaping only to coach laboring women at whatever hour a baby decides to enter the world. Doulas, like Brides of Christ, are on-call 24/7.