As published in the Natural Parent magazine, February 21 2019, New Zealand.
Halfway through a childbirth education class, I was seven months pregnant and it landed on my forehead. Surrender. The word, the idea, the powerful call. It was the one thing I most needed to do at this point, as I neared the big day of bringing my child into this world.
Before that, it had been so many things. Eat well. Move my body. Hydrate, hydrate. Surround myself with people who would not tell me their birth horror story or try to scare me out of a homebirth, but who would instead affirm that a woman’s body was made to give birth to new life. “You can do this” kind of people. As Ina May Gaskin said to women, “Your body is not a lemon.”
Now it was surrender calling my name. The rest was in place. Now, surrender.
It turns out surrender was exceptionally helpful during labor. Oh, the pain. Oh, the power of what was coming through me. It was all so big, the only response that seemed to match it was to surrender. So I did. With my heart, I reached deep into my womb for a sense of my co-leader’s strength, and we chose surrender together.
What did that look like? Knowing ultimately, between contractions in my candlelit bedroom, I was not in control. Knowing a larger power, the divine, was holding me and my child during this experience. It mostly meant letting go of all my hopes and wanting, so I could allow this baby to emerge knowing we were held and wanted by something I could surrender to.
Moving into my daughter’s early years, surrender kept showing up. Always with a powerful invitation, not always easy for me to accept. Some of these themes are common for other mothers, so I share this as an invitation to open yourself up to surrender when it might be a really, really helpful thing to do. To stop the pain of clinging.
Early childhood vaccinations asked for surrender, big time. Conversations were heated with other mothers who were making different choices than we were, with their babies. We argued about the diseases and the vaccines, what made sense, what was loving. We tried to convince each other, usually unsuccessfully. I hang with other strong women; we don’t budge easily.
Ultimately, for us surrender meant honoring our values and research around vaccines for our daughter. It meant being willing to let go of friendships where the conversation was unfriendly, seasoned with blame.
When it came to diseases, vaccines and the pharmaceutical industry, keeping friends wasn’t our top priority. We were interested in making wise choices for our tiny daughter’s body and life. Thankfully, years later one of my dearest friends is someone who has made the “opposite” choice from ours. The rigor of those heated exchanges fed us. Now our children are almost six years old and we can hear each other and respect our right to differ without feeling a deep lingering divide.
Mainstream pop culture has required significant surrender for our family, too. Overconsuming sugar, playing with plastic or mechanized toys, watching TV or engaging in hours of mobile phone screen time every day, all these things are the norm for most families. For us, they’re not. And although we have confidently communicated about these things, creating community that is solid around values we hold dear, we have also had to let go sometimes.
We don’t solely have eco-friendly toys and books with hand-created art rather than computer art. Allowing some of these things into our space has been, in part, an expression of my willingness to open my heart in a sigh of humility around the choices our culture makes. Maybe sometimes it’s OK to expose our children to those things. Idealism and surrender are a healthy pair.
One of the most challenging places surrender has come into play for our family is around our finances.
What I want more than new shoes and frequent travel or a big house, is to mother my daughter in a way that blows my mind.
She chose me, and I know fierce love. But love is not a prominent value our culture is led by, so… Sigh… Finding paid work that supports this way of mothering has not been easy. Mothering by instinct, with strong attachment, gentleness and beauty, has meant surrendering my high-paid consulting work and the lifestyle that came with it.
I want my child’s wellness more. I can’t be with her the way I want to, guiding her with my fierce love, if making “good” money weighs more.
And hear me, this has been hard. Not because I ever struggle with the choice around how to mother her, but because it made me really angry when I realized how hard it could be for a mother to thrive financially, while, oh, doing the most important work there is: delivering and lovingly guiding new life. Surrender has been essential in this place. Otherwise, I’d be walking around holding on to anger, not a healthy choice.
Overall the most beneficial way surrender has shown up in my parenting life, is through my choice to embrace our family’s values and accept that this would not present to us the easy path.
Quiet over noise and busyness, a small space to live rather than something fancy, choosing earth-honoring materials for toys, reimagining holidays away from consumption as a central principle, and now unschooling rather than school. All these ways have given us a chance to grow as communicators, to stand for our values, and this often involves finding the language to let our daughter know they why of it.
We love Mother Earth, so we want to respect her gifts and take care of her.
We like a small home, because it helps Mama be less grumpy about cleaning up.
You want Valentine’s notes for your friends? Let’s make some! We put time and love into things because it feels good, and we don’t have to go to a store to buy our joy.
For the naturally minded parent, surrender is necessary for sanity. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people is important so we feel seen and supported. Yet the world that’s not so resonant will greet our paths, too, and unless we want to cling and create ludicrous pain as a result (e.g. my two years of horrifically painful, multi-day migraines, which are now over!) … we must make surrender a very good friend.
Those of you who read my blog regularly are likely aware that I'm not talking about money. I am talking about what makes us truly rich, not financially rich.
I'm talking about relationships. Any not just the romantic kind.
Your long time closest friend. Your newest close friend. Your uncle, your mother, your hilarious free-spirited cousin. Your postman, postwoman or favorite barista. Your next door neighbor who gives you butter or lemons when you run out. Your spouse. Your boss. Your daughter. Your dog.
One of the most comprehensive studies of emotional well being in history, The Harvard Study of Adult Development, found the one thing that makes people happy is good relationships. What does this mean, in simple terms? "They care about me and I care about them," says masterful relationship coach Charles Zook.
What does this have to do with being rich?
To be happy is to be rich. To genuinely feel satisfied with what you have, to exhale daily thanks for your health and family, to revel in the majestically giving and gorgeous planet we get to call Home. Happiness gives us a feeling of being so-filled-up, we're rich. Full. Basking. Profoundly grateful.
Showing love has been my thing since early childhood. Giving eager hugs to my aunt Irma, telling my parents I love them, writing letters to friends in the mail... It has always been a high priority for me to invest in relationships. It feels natural. It feels real. It feels good.
So it struck me a few years ago that calling people rich primarily or only when they have abundant financial resources is a very silly thing. That isn't true richness. Money is useful, important, yes. But it isn't what makes us rich -- not in my values system.
Love makes us rich. And where do we give and receive Love? In our relationships. With ourselves, and with the people we hold most dear.
If you are starting to feel swallowed up in the commercial culture of heart-shaped candy and red roses surfacing for Valentine's Day, I feel for you. Making a consumer issue out of Love is rather sick.
Yet, though the culture has a big impact on us, it does not have power over us. You can choose to feed your sense of richness, feed your joy, by doing one simple and profoundly enriching thing: Feed Your Relationships.
Today, give this to yourself. Don't let yourself be under-fed. How? Pick someone in your life, call them and be curious. Be interested. How are they really doing? Have they healed from the death of their loved one? What are they creating these days? Where do they see themselves in 20 years?
Yes it is very simple. Still yes, we need reminders.
Go for a hike with a friend. Call your aunt and uncle to congratulate them for 55 years of marriage. Ask your dad if he needs help with his computer, or anything else. Thank your postal delivery person for their work, rain or shine.
This month, invest your time and voice in your own richness by showing Love to those who you value in this one precious life.
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Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.