The increasing vulnerability of right now


Beautiful morning moon, last week, on the way to school.

Through the comments on my post last week about vulnerability, I met a new writer whose work I’m enjoying.  In particular, this post, Dear Lonely Moms of Older Kids, really resonated with me.  It made me think about the fact that if parenting is an exercise in being vulnerable, perhaps as our children get older the challenges on the vulnerability front get harder.

This is turning out to be true for me.  I was telling someone recently about the single choice for which I received the most judgment as the parent of a young child.  That was the decision to let Grace, at 5, fly alone.  I felt comfortable with the decision, Matt felt comfortable with the decision, and Grace herself felt comfortable with it.  I have no regrets.  But for weeks and months after, I faced judgment from other moms on the playground which varied from thinly-concealed to outright and almost-hostile.

That was a long time ago, though, and it was an isolated incident.  Somehow the parenting decisions I make now feel more complicated, more fraught.  They have to do with what media I allow and messages about body image and technology and control over sleep and time.  I find myself saying with a metronomic regularity, “different families make different choices.”  The risk of judgment if I make a choice different from those the parents around me are making seems higher than ever.  And while I know that judgment comes from a place of deeply-held wanting to do the right thing by our own children, it can still sting.

Vulnerability is closely tied with judgment and loneliness, both of which almost instantly make me feel “unable to withstand the effects of a hostile environment,” which is the definition of vulnerability I’m working with these days.

So I feel more judged these days, mostly because I think the decisions feel bigger and more important.  Maybe also because I am increasingly aware of my identity as a working mother, and the more I own that, the more I open myself up to feeling judged about it (some of which I’m entirely willing to admit may be in my head).

I also feel more lonely in general these days now that my children are older.  Lonelier because I’m working more, which is happening for a million reasons.  One of those reasons is that they’re busier, so I have more time to work.  Lonelier because the intensity of new-friend-making that marked the first years at school has abated.  The moms have their friends.

But I also feel, and it’s hard for me to admit this, lonelier for my children.  They’re busier, and, more importantly, they’re doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is separate from me.  This is more pronounced with Grace, who’s older and plunging into adolescence with a speed that makes my head spin.  But still, there’s a marked change in degree of daily intimacy with my children and the truth is I mourn this development.  They also have to judge me as they separate, there’s no question about that.  Again, it’s something I’m seeing more with Grace than with Whit, but there’s some withering scorn sent my way these days that is new.

All of these factors combine to make me feel more vulnerable now that my children are older.  In those first months of parenting Grace, when I was more depressed than I have ever been in my life, when I was reduced to a shell of a person, I couldn’t have imagined another experience would ever disassemble me so entirely.  Yet here I am.

But maybe this isn’t about my children at all?

Some of this may just be being in a vulnerable moment in life.  I feel buffeted by the hostile environment, often, these days.  A friend called me recently with “news” and I told Matt I honestly didn’t know if she had cancer or was pregnant.  Joyfully, it was the latter.  But we’re perched on a knife edge, it feels like, in this middle place, with peril all around us and still, so much heart-shattering joy.

Maybe this increasing sense of vulnerability is just that as I age I grow more comfortable with my own porousness, let down my well-development defense mechanisms, and let more of life – the startling beauty as well as the bitter loss and pain – in.  As much as it slices me, this shift, I don’t think I’d want it any other way.



26 thoughts on “The increasing vulnerability of right now”

  1. I’m glad to have read such an introspective piece about what may lie ahead for me, as I am about to embark on the journey of parenthood in just two more months. It’s a vast psychological quagmire and it helps to read about all aspects of it whether or not they will be immediate or far down the road. Thank you.

  2. I don’t think change is talked about much in the realm of parenting. We talk about milestones and stages, but beyond the, “Oh, your teenagers will hate you” we don’t talk about the smaller, more intimate shifts. It is at once disquieting and beautiful to live through these changes. So much of what you write about feels eerily familiar.

    “…different families make different choices.”

    Even believing this from soul to smile, it is hard to weather the whisper and looks.

    Beautiful post, Lindsey.

  3. Oh, how well I know these shifts and lonliness so well. It is a shift of great magnitude, moving you, your children and your family in ways that will make you feel un centered and untethered, yet open the door for so many possibilities. My best advice it ride it out, feel it, and enjoy the moments.

  4. I remember the moment when I realized that somehow there was a shift – that we had gone from me feeling like I didn’t have enough time for them to them not having enough time for me. It is as it should be – I know that – but it takes a little getting used to.

  5. Super lonely after my divorce – especially the times the boys were at their father’s. My oldest is 19 and well on his way. Part of me misses him here, but part of me truly enjoys seeing him spread his wings. And the pressure to not have to “parent” him makes for much more enjoyable conversations.

  6. Oh goodness yes, there is a huge vulnerability in parenting older children. I am barely over the threshold but see glimpses of it in my child and witness it in other families. Thanks for writing about this–it helps to hear others talk about it. When my child was a baby I was really not so interested in advice/stories from mothers of older children but now I am so welcoming of the stories of women who have been through this.

  7. Lovely writing, as always. Speaking for myself, I think there is something about middle age that is both filled with wonder and fraught with vulnerability – it is rich and busy and wonderful, but there’s also a view (perhaps not accurate) to the other side of that for me, that there will be a time when it is not so full, and the contrast to me seems to imply emptiness in the future. If that makes any sense. I don’t think it’s necessarily true – older people report greater happiness than middle-aged people – so maybe this is just indicative of my inability to live fully in the present.

    Re adolescence – my kids are younger, so I’m not familiar with it first-hand as a parent, but I remember being so scornful and awful to my parents (esp my mother) back around ages 14 and 15. Our relationship turned into something different and much better, like I’m sure most parent/child relationships do, but it can’t have been easy for them during that time. Today, I think of them with such love and such appreciation for the way that they loved and continue to love me. My brother and I were talking with amazement at how non-judgmental they’ve always been.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble – thought-provoking and emotionally stirring writing, as always….

  8. I am so with you on this! Just this morning I was talking about how I swore that once I wasn’t sleep deprived, the rest of parenting would be a piece of cake. How wrong I was! The decisions do feel bigger, the choices all the more confusing! Thank you as always for getting me thinking…

  9. This is a beautiful and vulnerable post. Thank you for sharing.
    I am very judgmental of my own mother and I dread the possibility of my children ever feeling the same way about me. But, to be fair, my mother did many things right, some of them accidentally and some intentionally.
    One of the accidental blessings she gave me was putting me on a plane alone at age 7. I traveled from our humble, industrial town where we lived on the periphery of poverty to visit my grandfather in Southern California where I discovered an entirely different universe, began to believe a different and better life was possible and brought home a broader vision and sense of the world than any of the other children around me would ever have. I don’t think I could have done the same with my own children and would most likely stand in judgement of mothers who did/do. But… one day, I’ll have to thank my mother for giving me such a gift. And I should learn to mind my judgement.
    Blessings to you and yours.

  10. Putting your magic on the reading I shared with you last week is a wonderful gift. I so look froward to more on this piece of the parenting puzzle (aka a 5000 piece puzzle of a blue sky).

  11. I tried to write a short story once about the hostile environment I found myself in a few years ago in a New Jersey neighborhood. We had moved into a beautiful house just two weeks before giving birth to our third child. The moms in the neighborhood either worked a lot or kept themselves aloof, preoccupied with the PTO or one of the exclusive country clubs. I fit into neither organizations and at the time, I worked just a few hours per week. It was a tough season of friendlessness and alienation, a season I was hoping to share with other moms of young children in that crazy fun, messy kind of fashion. Alas, I am grateful that we have since moved and have made dear friends. Vulnerability, judgment, and loneliness. These are the themes I long to write about. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  12. Oh, congratulations on your impending news! Such a spectacularly emotional, life-changing time ahead … thinking of you. xox

  13. I am trying. So hard. But thank you for reminding me of all the possibilities and wonder that lie ahead. I mean that. xox

  14. This gives me hope for all that lies ahead. I know I dwell on the endings and losses so much that sometimes I have trouble seeing all the beginnings and new, breathtaking vistas. That’s my fault and something I need to work on. Thanks for reminding me that there’s much to love about what’s coming. xox

  15. Funny you say this; I feel the same way. I actually pretty actively rejected advice (and book! omg I hated the books) from others about parenting my baby or toddler. But now I’m eager to connect with others who will speak candidly about the emotion that’s held in these years. I was unprepared for it, I’ll be honest. xox

  16. Oh, I love the phrase “filled with wonder and fraught with vulnerability” – that’s so, so, so entirely my experience. And when it comes to reflecting on how wretched we were to our parents (especially our mothers) in adolescence, I always think of Tina Fey’s glorious poem to her daughter, and the paragraph about when her daughter lies on the floor with a newborn with poop up to her neck and realizes in a flash how much her own mother loved/loves her. I hope they recall. I really do.

  17. For me it’s definitely not getting easier. In some ways, sure. But in the big ones, for me, harder. And the constant farewells, and endings, and how sad that would be … well, I was really entirely unprepared for that.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It sounds to me like the trip when you were 7 was truly life changing. xoo

  19. I really, really, REALLY love the image of parenting as a 5000 piece puzzle of a blue sky. Oh, that’s just breathtakingly lovely and perfect. xox

  20. Oh wow. This makes me feel loads better. Oliver at 9 is definitely pulling away from me, and both boys spend more time with their friends than with me. I remember so recently spending ALL DAY with both of them when Oliver was in pre-K and the days were LONG. Now, some days, I barely see them except for breakfast, dinner, and bedtime, and I feel sad and liberated and worried and proud and mostly, unmoored. That they don’t NEED me every second is terrifiying because what am I supposed to do with myself? Thank you so much for putting these irritating and nebulous and uncomfortable feelings into works with an eloquence and articulation that is rare and perfect.

  21. I enjoy your writing so much. Life has a funny way is allowing judgement to rule our actions. As our children grow the situations we face morph into things we don’t even recognize.
    Thank you for being strong and sharing your experiences with us.

  22. thank you so much for saying such a kind thing. I really appreciate it. And you’re right: there’s a lot right now that I don’t recognize!

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