It doesn’t take long to see the place of love in our lives. Just think of our songs: “All you need is love”, “Can you feel the love tonight?” and our stories (even Disney variations on classic themes in films like Frozen and Maleficent are about the power of love, even in the most unexpected forms).
M. Scott Peck wrote more than 40 years ago:
“love is the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Love requires self-sacrifice, commitment and wisdom. In fact, as a therapist, Peck claimed that “the essential ingredient of successful deep and meaningful therapy is love.”
Those who know their Bibles could readily quote the words of 1 Corinthians, which describes the qualities of love such as:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking…
It is this last quality, “not self-seeking” that underlines the cost Lindy had to pay for the love of her youngest child. Love was the primary dynamic that ushered in a transition she did not plan, nor welcome.
The final lap cut off
Lindy has experience in running marathons. It is apt that she should use this as an analogy to describe the final phase of her life as a homeschooling mother of 28 years. “I had been planning this period for quite some time. This would be the final two years with my youngest child. Seeing the end of the marathon, knowing it was there ahead of me and looking forward to enjoying that last little bit with Odette.” Lindy had successfully homeschooled all her five children.
So, what happened? Odette wanted to finish her final two years of education in school. For Lindy this was devastating news. She explains, “Odette and I have a great relationship. It had nothing to do with that. But a lot of things changed in 2020. Three of her closest peers in our homeschooling circle moved on for different reasons. Our household, which had always been a hive of activity was also suddenly quieter with Odette’s siblings either moving out or going onto tertiary education. Suddenly the ‘herd’ she’s always been a part of had moved on without her.”
Lindy goes on to explain the care with which Odette had considered her options and the sensitivity she demonstrated toward her mum. “She told me that she didn’t want to upset me. I thanked her, but also told her that this was my burden, you don’t have to carry it.” Lindy wanted to understand Odette’s reasons and enter into her daughter’s experience. They talked about Odette’s fears and misgivings, as well as her reasons.
Lindy concluded that the right thing for her would be to support her daughter. “I needed to be very adult about this. I had to acknowledge my own feelings at the time, but I didn’t want them to be leaking in so that I would say something to Odette that I would later regret.”
Their first conversation occurred in November last year. Soon after, Lindy found herself talking with a School Principal about Odette’s application for the beginning of 2021. She was accepted without any problems, but it was a strange experience for Lindy, who had only a short time earlier been planning for their final two years together.
The Cost of Love
Lindy is still as committed to homeschooling as she ever was. “I loved it, absolutely loved it. If I had my time over, I would do it all again.” She explains that while it may not be perfect (what things are?) and has its many stresses and pressures, yet the highlight for Lindy was the investment in her children. “My kids are so much fun. I just realise how much I love them. They are all individuals – they are who they are. They are such a rich tapestry.”
But, it is clear that Lindy’s love of homeschooling had to place second to her love for Odette. “It was like we were on opposite sides of the fence. It was painful, but I could see her reasons. So, it was a no brainer. I had to sacrifice. If she was five it would have been different. But she is 16. Someone had to sacrifice and that was me.”
Dealing with Loss
William Bridges talks about transitions involving a loss of identity: something we were once, we are no longer. For Lindy she talks about her transition from being homeschooling mum as “a ripping”: sudden and unpleasant.
“I have identified with the role of being homeschool mother for close to 30 years. I asked myself, ‘how do I live without that’? I was preparing to say goodbye to that, but on my own terms and as a celebration. But that was taken away from me. I have found myself asking ‘who will I be without that role?’”
There is also grief. “I gave myself permission to cry.” Lindy explains the value of close homeschooling friends who were able to give her the empathy she needed during some of her more difficult days. There was also heated wrestling with God. She would ask him, “why God did you end it like this? What do you want me to learn about you, myself and the world by allowing me to be truncated in such an abrupt way?” Lindy adds, “I feel like I’m always having it out with God these days.”
The Other Side of Loss
She sees, in a strange sort of way that her relationship with Odette has been strengthened. “One day we were driving in the car and she said to me, ‘Mum, I think this is the first disagreement we’ve ever had.’ I said, ‘You’re right, we’ve never had a disagreement.’ So, that is something to stop and be thankful for.”
Lindy also expresses her delight in moments of honesty, where she has taken the risk of revealing some of her own emotions to Odette. She refers to one of these as a particularly beautiful moment of “openness, vulnerability and humility”.
Lindy also acknowledges this contracted period of sharp change is perhaps the catalyst for a new shape to her life. “In my head my life feels a bit like a graph. Some parts of me have been scaled down for the sake of homeschooling, but these can now grow and fill up the space that homeschooling took up.”
Lindy talks about focussing more on her post graduate studies in counselling and expanding her practice as a therapist. “Even though I lost my role as homeschooling mother, I knew I could be a carer and helper in other ways. As a therapist, it helped me to say, ‘Ok, well I’ve lost something, but there is something new on the horizon.’ Specifically, Lindy now has the opportunity to expand her practice to include group therapy, which has been on the backburner for some time.
As a therapist, she also used her own experience to help with understanding her emotions, “I’ve had a few meta-moments where I’ve stepped outside of myself to observe. When you feel an emotion, it is best to process and express it at the time in a contained and adult way. And if you are constantly doing that, it really heals the process.” The other advantage of Lindy’s “live processing” is that her experience confirms those techniques she uses to help clients in their therapy.
Lindy’s final word comes back to the theme of love. For her, it’s underneath her relationship with God, “I feel like God has asked me ‘can you be ok with me and not have the things you want?’ I have been thinking and reflecting on that. I have to admit, I am not very good at that, so there is definitely a battle between me and God. I feel like he is teaching me that all over again.”
That is surely a lesson of self-sacrifice, an essential aspect of love.
William Bridges, Transitions
M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled