Several significant events occurred in my life as a mother during the last few weeks. A “Pentecost” happened to our daughter, Mary. The spirit of independence descended upon her like a tongue of rebellion and life. It blew in like the Holy Spirit and told our seventeen month old that it was (finally) time to walk completely on her own (which, apparently, is no big deal to her now), sleep through the night (oh, thank you, God!), speak more in sentences and develop an I-will-do-[fill in the blank]-when-*I*-am-ready attitude.
Pretty much every night, my husband and I look at each other and ask, “What happened to our baby?” We rejoice in Mary’s growth and triumphs and then we spend time worrying about all of the things that can happen to her with her increased mobility and “adult” mindset.
I think I’m going through some sort of grieving period as our mother-daughter snuggles slow down in frequency, nursing becomes less needed and Mary becomes more independent and inquisitive. In those same moments of grief, the presence of God is palpable and Mary’s growth is exciting. She can now ask for things, understand more and listen. How can such a little person learn so much in such short a time?
Since Mary’s Pentecost coincided with the Pentecost of Jesus’ disciples, I have been reflecting on the significance of these two events. Upon receiving the spirit, the followers of Jesus could speak different languages, were immune to certain poisons and were enabled to be successful disciples of the Lord. Upon receiving the spirit of confidence and grace, our Mary could communicate more successfully with others, rapidly move around and enter more fully into her own self. I wonder about the type of person she will become as she gets older, what she will value and who she will love.
How can we, as parents, successfully shepherd our own sons and daughters along as they continue to mature and grow into independent children and, later, strong adult members of our faith? Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide and empower his disciples. We as parents work together with God’s grace to keep our children safe while encouraging them to grow more fully into their adult selves.
Another significant, recent event for me has been finding out one of my favorite high school teacher’s children took his own life after his freshman year at my alma mater. I remember my former teacher describing how significant his son’s homebirth was to him and his wife. Now, this beautiful, gay young man is no longer on this earth. While I have not kept in touch with the teacher or met his son, their story touched me on such a deep level as a parent. Right now I’m doing all I can to keep Mary safe and feel supported. What will happen when she encounters the things that are generally out of my parental control–bullying, hatred, despair and the general inequalities of our world?
The examples that we show, the language we use, the openness we have and the experiences that we have as a family are all important tools for navigating growth and educating our children about the world. I hope the Holy Spirit continues to inspire our family and yours with periods of individuality, community, growth and compassion. Let us continue to carry out St. Ignatius’ instruction to “Go Forth and Set the World on Fire” as we fan the tongues of fire above our children’s heads.
Sarah is the Director of Mission & Identity at Canisius College. Sarah has been a member of the Ignatian Family for 18 years and loves all of the connections, friends and justice-y things that have developed during that time! She lives with her husband, two daughters, and two cats in the City of Good Neighbors, Buffalo, NY. Sarah loves reading, donuts, women’s spirituality and going on adventures with her daughters.