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Surrender as a form of parenting and of coming to terms with life.

When my first child was born, I was not prepared for what being a parent meant I was ashamed to say it aloud, but there was too much sacrifice involved in this relationship.

Here I was sacrificing to my baby's needs my sleep, uninterrupted meals, time with my husband and time for my own projects. I had this lovely blond baby, and instead of being able to give to him with a generous love, I was selfishly guarding my little claims.

My resistance was making both of us unhappy. I wanted to know how to embrace him fully and not keep him at arm's length, a longing that compelled me to take a journey of a surprisingly spiritual nature.

I became acquainted with a group of young mothers who, in our discussions, often used the word surrender. These mothers were neither drained nor martyrs and were not as resentful as I was. "Surrender," they'd tell me. "Go with the flow. Don't sweat the small stuff."

At first, I didn't get it. I was capable of sacrifice; the concept was part of my religious upbringing, and I had seen it embodied in many of the mothers I knew as a child. But surrender? I didn't want to give in, lose my bit of control! I clung awhile to my fight, feeling angry that one child could change my life so completely.

But finally, tired of the strain of fighting him, I began to practice surrender in little bits, to see whether I could get the hang of it.

On a surprisingly warm day in January, when he wanted to be in the yard, I surrendered my list of "to dos" and spent the day digging holes and making stick villages in the empty flower beds. When he unrolled a whole roll of toilet paper, or removed all the books from the lower two shelves of the bookcase, I surrendered by chuckling (instead of groaning) while we picked it up together.

Slowly, I got the picture. Surrender was about accepting my child as he was, not how I wanted him to be. It was about looking for the grace-filled response. It was about being able to spread my arms and say, "So what?" to mud on the kitchen floor and a nap that ended too quickly.

And amazingly, where sacrifice often created self-pity or martyrdom, surrender opened spaces for something new to happen. I stopped dividing time into "mine" and "his" and saw it as "ours." Taking a restless child out of church turned into a meaningful chat with a father while our children played in the grass. Staying up late to read another chapter of a book to my now 9-year-old meant a shared smile, a heart-to-heart about the day's hurts and joys.

Surrendering was my first step in practicing the art of being in the present moment. I learned to stop and meet my child's eyes when he came to me while I was typing at the computer. I took time to study the daddy longlegs he had brought me, letting myself be drawn into his excitement, instead of reacting with my usual squeamishness.

I came upon Thich Nhat Hanh's "The Miracle of Mindfulness" and Brother Lawrence's "Practicing the Presence of God" and found parallels. Not a monk, but a mother, I thought.

When my children were babies and toddlers, I was so intimately involved in their care that I practiced surrender almost hourly. I could relate to the early desert fathers, only my desert was early motherhood.

Now that they are 5 and 9, they are more capable of meeting their own needs. However, there are times when it's imperative I walk away from my computer, cancel a meeting, miss some sleep or stop the car during a long drive and throw a Frisbee with them. They need my attention when they feel troubled or want to share a fascinating discovery.

Surrender is only one of the spiritual understandings I have found as a parent. I'm sure there are many more to come. Not a monk, but a mother. Yes!
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Title Annotation:Starting Point
Author:Bengson, Diane McLain
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:May 7, 1993
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