The work of shepherds: our children, our hearts |

The work of shepherds: our children, our hearts

Kimball PierFamily Matters

Upon reading the Jan. 10 edition of the Sierra Sun, I knew I had what I needed to write my column for this month. I read the article on the sentencing hearing for Scott Lindner and was struck by the words of Lance Skupen, the father of 19-year-old Keith Stewart, when reflecting on his sons life and his death last August. He said, Keith was no angel he had his trials and tribulations, but he was coming out of it. I will never get over the feeling of failure as a parent I failed to get through to him, or maybe he just needed a little more time.What wrenched me out of the preoccupation with the outcome of the trial was the unabashed humility and honesty of this statement. Regardless of the fact that my own son is 19 and is considered an adult by law, I still have a strong mothering undercurrent that pulls me under when he wrestles with the weightiness of his inner demons. A part of me wants desperately to release him to the lessons of life, another part feels resignation; sighing under the weight of my own sense of responsibility to keep teaching, keep nurturing dont let him go just yet. I want so much to feel the power of detachment; to heed all the encouragement that its really okay for me to just let him struggle. But I cannot.I have the ability to detach enough so that I can enjoy my life and my work, but there is always that edge of awareness; the dorsal fin of fear and dread circling and circling I do the best I can to manage and adjust. And the phone rings Give me a few hours to recharge, I tell him. Then Ill call you and well keep working through It doesnt matter that people tell me Im doing the best I can. Im fairly certain Mr. Skupen heard it time and time again, but in our hearts, it still comes down to the heart-breaking feeling that there might be just one more thing we can do just one more drop we can squeeze out of our exhausted souls in service to our children.And it doesnt matter that my son is 19 and should be able to figure it out. I am exasperated, frustrated and I wish he would just get it. Mom I feel like I just cant do it. This life thing. I dont know what Im doing. His voice is low and barely audible.I listen, waiting for my heart to engage and give me guidance in what to say. I fight off the urge to speak out of my frustration because its just my fear in disguise. I know he speaks the language of what is going on deep in his genetic encoding and in his life experience, but he also speaks the language of the suffering of this country and the world at this time. Its an angry, unhappy time for him and for us. Where is the excitement about the launch into adulthood? I feel I have only one choice. I have to keep going and re-define what mothering means. Its like orienteering. I get lost and then try to get my bearings.Hang on, Im still here, I call out to him in the darkness. I used to be afraid to talk about my feelings of failure as a mother to my friends because all I ever seemed to hear were stories of success, glowing reports from the soccer field or the classroom. Im not afraid anymore. I dont have time to be embarrassed about stumbling around and struggling to find a thread of resonance.My son doesnt have time either. I paw the soil trying to find the middle ground between booting him into the world and holding him to my breast.I want communion with other parents who go to work and manage to carry out their own dreams or maybe just keep up with the tasks of survival and when they have a few minutes, to pull the shades down on the workday persona to dwell for the moment in the shadows of uncertainty; to perseverate and obsess over what to do next.When they slip, we offer a hand. They must want to hang on or we will surely have to release them when our own strength can no longer bear the weight. When they fall, we will be there to hold them no matter how horrible the crime or how revolting the behavior or how vile the addiction. We can hold them and hold them until our strength gives out. When they wander off, we drop to our knees and surrender them to their own will to the powers that be and still, we find little relief. At parties I say, Hes on his own. Ive done all I can.In my room, lying in my bed staring out at the stars I say, Oh God please help him help me. I feel Im lost at sea If onlyKimball Pier is a practicing therapist, substance abuse counselor and divorce mediator. She has an M.S. in marriage and family therapy and advanced divorce mediation certification. Reach her at

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