There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal
― George Gordon Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
Reading George Byron’s piece, I was immediately struck by the opening line, “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods…” Byron was certainly a poet after my own heart. Life events can feel so contrived at times that one begins to forget what it means to experience things in a natural state. To walk in the woods without a path to guide the way, sit on a “lonely shore” and feel the breeze of the morning tide coming in. Everything does not need to be analyzed, planned and accounted for. Nature is as it is, unpredictable.
Upon reflection, I see these words demonstrate the ebb and flow of parenting in many ways. As a young mother, having my daughter at 20 and my son at 24, I fought to provide a steady and stable environment for them. My every intention and action was made with their well being in mind. Sadly, being in a volatile relationship that was less than loving, I often over compensated for this lack by creating an “all is well” mentality. The problem was…all was not well and they knew it.
“Think for a minute, darling: in fairy tales it’s always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers have to stay at home and wait for the children to fly in the window.”
― Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
You see, children are smart, much smarter than given credit for. They see, hear and absorb their world more acutely than adults. They are sponges and while nothing need be said, they are observing and learning. I became racked with guilt and worried about my children’s development. At times I heard them share childhood memories and while most were idyllic, I heard a sprinkle of cringe worthy moments that gave me pause. I began to ask myself, had I done enough? Had I given them everything that they required to move forward and be well functioning adults? I spent so much time during the children’s rocky teens and early adulthood questioning and wondering if I had really missed the mark as a parent.
“Having kids—the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings—is the biggest job anyone can embark on.”
– Maria Shriver
Thankfully, having the benefit of time to reflect always puts things into greater perspective. The kids have had their foibles, as most will during painful periods of growth, but they are doing well. More importantly, they are two of the most loving and generous people I know. Character has always mattered to me and I am exceptionally proud that they possess strength of character and a genuine love for life. With many dark woods and rough seas left to encounter, this will serve them well.
As Byron states so well, parenting is inherently a “pathless wood” of uncertainty and trepidation, but one in which a parent must strive to continually find the beauty and grace in this uncertainty. It never gets easier; a parent will always worry for their child. One never really knows how to raise another human being. It is more a stumbling along, a rocky ride begun with the best of intentions to guide young and impressionable minds. I have only ever wanted to “mingle with the Universe” to seek out the greater truths. As a parent, I make every attempt to share this wonder with my children by being the best example I can be. In the end this has to be enough.
“I believe the choice to become a mother is the choice to become one of the greatest spiritual teachers there is.”
Parenting is synonymous with nature: nurturing, protecting, and wildly unpredictable. Reading this poem on the eve of Mother’s Day I am moved to be kinder to myself. I can only be who I am, no more and no less. The rest is and has always been up to my children. They must broach the “pathless wood” with fear yet resolve. They must continue to weather the rough seas and seek the answers to the larger questions. I cannot do this for them or take ownership over the result. I can only love unconditionally and will continue to do so. I strive to be the lighthouse in the storm, the light shining through the trees of the dense forest. They will find their way forward and when they do I will be there, as always, with arms wide open.