This summer I crossed a threashold and became a mother to three teenagers. Having three kids born in just under 3 years, I’ve had times when they were all in diapers, all needing to be buckled in carseats, and all needing me to kneel down on the bathroom floor and wash their hair for them in the tub. Many years ago a friend described these as seasons of life, pockets of time with unclear boundaries that encapsulate a phase or an extended experience that flavors that period of time.

I’ve entered a new season. One which will end with my oldest graduating from high school in less than 2 years. In this season I tend to my nest and make sure it’s a safe and nourishing place for my little adolescent birds to return to after their adventures in the world. My wings ache for them when they’re gone, but for a while longer I know they’ll be coming back, and I want them to feel the comfort and security of home and their Mama.

Over the past 5 years I have become more of an empath. I’ve developed some new skills and practices, but mostly I’ve removed the blocks I had put up to feeling my own emotions. My heart more open to the world and all the joy and pain of it, I’m still learning ways to protect it while remaining open. I’ve grown to take ownership of my own feelings and have become an excellent space holder for others’.

But these kids, these extraordinary people that have been entrusted to my care…this season is teaching me something I didn’t anticipate.

Understanding human and spiritual development, I know I cannot expect my children to understand the full range of their emotions, how to express them, how to move through them, and how to take ownership of them. Hell, I’ve only just begun to feel like I have a grasp on this over the past half a decade or so. So when they hurt, they want to blame it on someone or something else. Their egos are more forward and they don’t always understand the consequences of their actions. This is all very normal and appropriate. And even at this stage of development I see them as such kind, caring, and gracious humans. I’m so very proud of them.

When they hurt, I hurt. When they are exuberant, I celebrate with them. When they’re struggling I really get intentional — what is it they need from me right now? I am their Mama bird. How do they need me here in the nest, how do I best serve my brave, growing young?

It requires me to take myself back to my own adolescence. What was it that I really needed when I was 16? 14? 13? What was I feeling? What did I want from my nest and my own Mama bird?

This exercise is making this season more challenging for me. Stepping back to this time in my distant past is serving to be more difficult than anticipated. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, because I resisted this journey for a long time. It’s only now, witnessing my kids move through their own rites of passage, that I have the motivation to take a closer look.

Those blocks I had put up to feeling my own emotions–they were laid in these adolescent years. The layers of armor I’ve been peeling off in this time of spiritual evolution were first put on around the age of 9. There were times I laid down the armor and risked exposing my heart to someone or something, sometimes being met with equal vulnerability, sometimes being crushed. It’s just like how, in a room of dozens of fans, we focus on the one hater. Even after experiencing the joy that’s possible when I put down my armor, the crushing pain is enough to have me add three more layers of protection to haul with me moving forward.

I don’t want my kids to wear that kind of armor. As I’m learning to put healthy boundaries around my own sensitive heart, I so want to teach them. I can’t expect them to understand, so I can model it for them so they can see how it’s done here in the nest. I don’t want to keep them from having their own beautiful and awful experiences in their young lives–this is the time for them to have the full range of life and still come crawl under my wing again and again for the reassurance that they are loved unconditionally. That they are safe. That they can be all of who they are and never be judged here in this nest of ours.

And as I think about my teenage self, I ask her what she really needed. Did you know you were loved unconditionally? Did you know you were safe? Did you feel comfortable and celebrated for who you were, without judgement, under the wing of those who’s care you were entrusted to? This is my work. This is what this season is offering me. And it’s hard as shit.

I notice how badly I want to leave the nest I’ve built. I want to go for long soars over lands I’ve never seen before, and somedays I can. It’s important for me to keep a broad perspective and not just experience the world from my perch, waiting for my little ones to fly back. But I am still needed here. There’s tending and comfort-making and big loving to be done here. So I will sit with my aching wings and my open heart, and I will breathe. I will beam pride from my eyes and I will love my teenage self as I love my teenage children. There’s room here in the nest for all of us.

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