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The Hero’s Journey of Parenting: What Bilbo Baggins and I Have in Common

I’m re-reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the story, but I’m also thinking about the hero’s journey as I read about Bilbo‘s occasional longing to go back to his hobbit hole and the comforts of his home that are so well known to him. And it’s reminding me of my own hero’s journey as a parent. 

In the hero’s journey, Joseph Campbell talks about passing over a threshold into some kind of a challenge. Often we’re drawn into the challenge without even realizing how difficult it’s going to be. We see the end goal and we’re excited! We pack what we think we’ll need for the journey with eager anticipation, quite oblivious to what the journey is going to entail or the challenges that we’ll meet along the way. 

I really resonated with that being similar to my parenting journey. Unlike Bilbo, I never wanted to go back to where I was before–being childless–I’ve wanted to be a Mom for as long as I can remember, and I’m grateful for my son daily. But I’ve had moments of anxiety and fear, wondering if I had the knowledge and tenacity to do the job as well as I’d hoped. 

The journey was much harder than I anticipated

I “packed” for my journey by reading all of the books on attachment parenting and gathering all of the information that I needed to be the best parent that I could be.

As I went along on my journey, I discovered that my new information prepared me for some challenges, but not for others. 

I had no idea of how hard it would be.  It’s been an enlightening, and also painful and arduous journey at times. Being the parent I wanted to be has meant learning to feel my own feelings and attune to both myself and my child. Ultimately, it’s turned out to be a treasure that’s worth more to me than I could’ve imagined. But along the way, amongst the joyful days, I’ve had days of feeling fatigued or discouraged where I looked back with some longing for it to be the easier experience that I’d imagined. I’ve also had days where I looked ahead with fear and trepidation because I felt woefully unprepared and wasn’t sure of the next “right” step to take.

Parenting feels like the most important job I’ve ever done in my life, and much like Bilbo, I felt a commitment to do my job well for the greater good. 

My deepest heart’s desire has been to have a connected relationship with my son and do right by him.

Feeling like a failure

One of the biggest challenges for me was really connecting strongly with my child in difficult moments, especially when I’d been emotionally triggered and was at the end of my rope for how to get him to cooperate. In those moments I felt frustrated and anxious, and when I lost my patience, I worried that I might have damaged him irreparably. Sometimes I felt like a failure. 

In my search for the help I needed to meet the challenges, I often reached what felt like dead ends. The most fearful moments were those in which I wasn’t sure if I could even do the job I’d set out to do, or if I’d find parenting approaches that actually worked for us. In those moments I felt despairing and hopeless. 

Ultimately, to make progress on my journey, I did a lot of healing work on myself, some of which improved my self-awareness and skills. But I still often felt there was something missing.

Somatic work was pivotal on my journey

When my son was 13 years old, I discovered somatic work and nervous system regulation and it was a pivotal point in my parenting. I knew it was the missing piece. Maybe it was a little bit like Bilbo finding the ring. It didn’t mean his challenges and struggles were over, but he had a tool that could help him, if he had enough courage to face his own fear and carry on with the journey. It was a tool that he could use with some success to accomplish his important mission. 

That’s what somatic work has been like for me. I still had to have the courage to take steps forward in my own healing, and the willingness to feel the anxiety and fear as they came up in layers for healing when I was triggered by my child, but at least I had a tool. And as I experienced changes from doing somatic healing work on myself, I gained more confidence that I could accomplish what I’d set out to do at the start. 

It was worth every minute of the hard work.

It wasn’t what I imagined; it’s better

Looking back from where I am now, with my son having recently turned 19, I have a deep connection with my son. It’s the kind of relationship I had longed for with my own parents and didn’t always have. I know it in my heart, and I feel it in my body. And funnily enough, it’s not what I expected. I think I had a more perfectionistic, and unrealistic vision of what a connected relationship would be like. It has ups and downs, but it’s much better than I imagined. 

I find myself near the end of the most intensive phase of my hero’s journey, and more confident because I’ve discovered strength, courage, resilience, that I didn’t know I had. I’m grateful for the deep satisfaction of knowing I’ve made a difference in my life, my son’s life, and our family connections as a whole.