Oct 222012
 

It’s no secret that I am a runner and that I run with my kids. Sometimes with both of them in a double jogging stroller. This weekend I headed out for a run with my boys and, as usual, I started out without really knowing where we would go. After a mile or two my oldest son said, “Mama, why do we always have to go the same way?” I thought about it. I didn’t realize that I always go the same way when I have them with me, but it was true. Every single time I run with the double stroller, I go the same way. It’s a challenging, but not super difficult, four-mile loop that has nice scenery, a moderately hard hill and some downhill fun, which turns almost dangerous when 100 pounds of stroller and kids builds momentum and pulls me faster than I can comfortably run. I complain about it every time. And yet, here we were, running it again. I told my son that I didn’t know why, but that it just felt good and it seemed like a good way to go. And then I pondered. And pondered. And pondered some more. My pondering brought to mind some similar scenarios.

Recreating the wheel

  • At the park I watched as a two-year-old child struggled to make her way up the climbing structure. The first time, it took her several minutes. She struggled and whined, and I was pleased to see that her father supported her but didn’t help her up. She made it to the top, turned around and yelled, “I did it!” Then she slid down the slide and ran straight for the bottom of the structure again. Again, she made her way up, still slow but with notably less whining and grunting, got to the top yelled “I did it!” again, slid down and ran back to the beginning. She went up no less than 10 times. Every time faster, more sure of herself. And every time feeling accomplishment at the end.
  • A parent of an eight-year-old girl worries in my office about her daughter, “I see her struggle over and over again with this one friend of hers. I really think she just needs to get a different group of friends. I tell her that, but she won’t listen to me. She just keeps having the same fight with this girl, every night.” Over and over again.
  • A one-year-old boy chooses a book for story-time. A caterpillar is hungry, eats so much food, gets fat and turns into a beautiful butterfly. “Read it again, Mama!” The tired mother thinks she would rather read just about anything other than this same book. Instead, she turns to the beginning and reads… “In the light of the moon…” Pretty soon, the boy is saying the words with her. “Read it again!”
  • A parent tells me that she is worried about her adult son. “It’s like he has to recreate the wheel. Why can’t he just listen to us? Why does he have to make every mistake that his father made?”
  • A five-year-old begins to recognize words. “Look!!!! There is the word STOP!” she yells out at every corner on the long drive home. Her excitement is clear; she is sure that she is the first person to ever make this discovery and she has to share the news! It’s monumental.
  • A preschool boy turns a stick into a weapon. A rock becomes a car. A ball with a board on top becomes a mode of transportation. Invention. Discovery. He is, in all actuality, reinventing the wheel. And oh, it feels so good. “Look! I made a work truck!”
  • My two-year-old stands on a chair to reach a high object, the chair falls and he crashes to the ground. He cries out, yells at the chair and, still crying, stands the chair up and tries again. The chair falls again. I am tempted to get it for him, or tell him he can’t have it. Instead I tolerate my fear and sit close. He cries louder, pushes me aside and stands the chair up. Still crying, he climbs up, this time with the chair against the wall and his hand on the wall to hold himself steady, he wobbles as he reaches up and grasps the object. Tears still on his face, his smile lights up and he holds it out to me. I take a deep breath and congratulate him on accomplishing his task. I walk out of the room and later see him doing the same thing in another location. He figured it out and is trying out his new skill. Over and over again.

Reinventing the wheel. It is, in my opinion, the very essence of life. Figuring something out for oneself. Experiencing the joy of discovery, the challenge of improvement, the satisfaction of mastery. This is what life is all about. Sure, someone can physically lift us to the top of the play structure, or tell us how to negotiate friendships or buy us a toy that has pre-fabricated components, but the reality is that those things will not be our experiences. They will be someone else’s experiences, someone else’s discovery. They will be slightly foreign and, in the end, we will set them aside or ignore them and find our own way to learn our own lesson.

Reinventing the wheelWe recreate the wheel because we want to feel the pain, we need to whine and be uncomfortable. We want the challenge of the jungle gym, the difficulty of relationships, the complication of figuring out how to transport heavy objects. We want the pain because without it we cannot feel the joy and pride and accomplishment on the other side. We will not get to stand at the top with our hands reaching high and scream at the top of our lungs, “Look at me!!! I did it!!!” And we don’t just want to do it once, we want to master it.

I realized that even now, as an adult, I run the same loop because I know I can do it, but I haven’t mastered it. I have reached a level of comfort with my loop that allows me to think about things like form, or speed or upping the ante by pushing two kids and a stroller up the hill. I know how my body feels at different places along the loop, I know where the sidewalk is cracked and where I have to step to the right or turn to the left. My knowledge of how my body feels gives me comfort, while I can still push myself to make it harder, more challenging. And it feels good. I can compare my current performance with my past and I know I am getting better. Without anyone telling me. I am learning about my body,  my limits, what I am capable of and what I can still work on. So over and over again, I recreate the wheel and run the same loop. Someday, I will master it. Then it will be time to find a harder hill.

It’s just like the little girl on the playground structure. Next time you’re at the park, pick a kid and watch them. Chances are, they will be doing the same thing. Finding something that challenges them, and then doing it over and over again. Each time, getting more and more secure. When I watched the little girl, I noticed that she was extremely mindful about her body. She was paying attention to where she put her hands and her feet. She made small adjustments each time until it felt right. She was learning about herself. Learning about her world. Without anyone telling her.

Sometimes it’s amazing to watch someone reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it’s painful. The eight-year-old girl figuring out her friendships is hard to watch. It nearly killed me to watch my son fall a second time from his chair. We want to shield them from the pain. We want them to learn from what we already know, take our wheels and make their lives easier. But whether it’s a jungle gym, a favorite book, a friendship or a running loop, we are destined to recreate it. Each of us. In our own time, in our own way, we need to shape our own wheels. Hopefully there is someone there cheering us on. Ready with tissue or band aids or blow horns or confetti. Recreating the wheel is hard work. And it’s what life is all about. Let’s get to it. And let’s get out of our kids’ way. Their wheels are waiting!

 

*Amazing photo credit to Tumbleweed Infant House.

 Posted by at 12:49 am
Jun 072012
 

Parenting does crazy things to couples. So much attention goes to the part of parenting that is child-focused. Philosophies, advice columns and blogs focus on the child’s development and what we as parents can do to help them thrive. Our kid-focus is justified; thriving children turn into thriving adults. But what seems to be talked about less, and what I really love, is the family behind the child. The Parent. The Couple. The people who are so deeply and profoundly impacted by children. A profound impact that, while beautiful, can create challenges for us as individuals and, especially, us as couples. The reality is that having children brings out parts of us that we never really knew were there and changes us to the core. Going from single, to partnered, to pregnant, to being a parent and a family brings on identity shifts and challenges that often go ignored. The identity that we form as a couple gets shaped and challenged and reshaped as the landscape of our family changes. Just as our children are constantly going through developmental changes, so are we as individuals, as couples and as families. And, while we pore over books and blogs and talk endlessly with our friends about the developmental stages of our kids, we have little connection to what is happening to us as individuals or as a couple.

So often I hear couples say things like, “We used to…” “We don’t talk anymore…” “When the kids aren’t around we just stare blankly at each other until we eventually start talking about the kids….” Just when a couple thinks they know each other, you throw a kid into the mix and the whole world tips upside down. Suddenly they don’t care about (or have time for) many of the things they liked to do together. Suddenly they are too tired to give each other the attention each partner needs. Suddenly life is about focusing on the child (and finding a way to take care of the rest of life so that we can focus on the child) and everything else gets left for another day. It can feel like our relationship is overshadowed by our children.

We  talk about the struggles that children have as they take on new developmental challenges. Child/parental conflict is often really about a child learning to differentiate from the parent, express themselves in new ways or take on new responsibilities in the world. They are figuring out their role in the family and in the world and sometimes that is a frustrating, tricky and even painful endeavor. In the same way, couple conflict may often be viewed as a symptom of developmental changes. Parents suddenly have different agendas, different priorities, different needs and they are trying to figure out their roles with their children, their partner and in the world. They are figuring out who they are and how to get their needs met, and, just like for children, this is amazingly difficult. In the same way that the toddler can’t say, “Mother, today I want to get dressed on my own and this is going to be frustrating, but I just want you to sit by me and support me while I try,” but instead grabs clothes from our hands and screams, we have difficulty identifying and articulating what we really need, and rely on arguing, blaming, criticizing and isolating. Sounds a lot like a tantrum!

So often new parents come into therapy with a “parenting” problem focused on their child and, through their work, it becomes clear that their main conflict is with each other. They are negotiating their roles with each other and in the family and struggling with it. In fact, many of the same things that parents struggle with with their children, are actually being acted out in their relationship as well. Power struggles, neediness, not listening, responsibility, trust. These are common themes discussed in child development, but what about between couples? What if couples were able to consider their own developing relationship in the same way that they consider their child’s development? What would happen if we looked beyond the complaint and tried to connect with what each person was really trying to communicate? Here are some common themes. Let’s call them Developmental Triggers:

Power Struggles: “Every morning it’s a power struggle.” So often, couples end up in stalemates when it comes to every day conflict. Many times, when it comes down to it, neither partner really knows what it is they are power struggling over. Both people dig in their heels and refuse to back down. When toddlers power struggle, they are saying, “I have my own ideas, thoughts and opinions. I may have some control here. I think I will test out this boundary and see what happens!” When couples are power struggling, they may be saying to each other, “Everything feels so out of control right now, I have to find the limit somehow. I need to know where I stand.”

Independence/Autonomy: “He thinks he can just do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.” Children need to slowly gain independence and autonomy and interact more and more with the world on their own. As parents, we recognize that in them. But we forget the importance of this for ourselves and our partners. Prior to having children, we likely enjoyed the freedom to make decisions, go places, do things that were spontaneous and unplanned. Couples develop a pattern or routine that involves interactions with each other and with friends and family as well as having time to themselves when they want it. Kids enter the picture and that all changes. It takes weeks of planning to go to dinner with friends. There are babysitters to secure, bags to pack, logistics to consider. Not to mention, many parents just feel too tired at the end of the day to go out afterward. Independence all but disappears for both parents. And while we may love the newfound responsibility of parenting, the loss of independence is huge. Finding a way to support each other’s autonomy is tricky. Hearing “I need space from you and from the family” often results in hurt feelings, even if we know that giving that space results in happier, healthier parents. When couples are fighting about this, what they may be actually saying is, “I need to find myself again.”

Neediness: “It seems that she always needs something.” Kids may act “needy” when they feel insecure or need adult support. They may come up with unending and creative ways to get your attention. What they are really saying is, “I need to feel connected with you. Be here with me now.” With never ending child care needs and demands added to the already long list of everyday living responsibilities, both partners may feel that their to-do lists are overwhelming and that their own needs fall to the wayside. Often in therapy both partners will equally profess that their own needs come last in the hierarchy. This can lead to two people who feel lonely, overwhelmed and isolated. Fighting about this may be more about trying to communicate, “Be here with me now. I need to know I am not alone.”

Recognition, Responsibility, Respect: “I am tired of picking up after them. Why can’t they do their share?” Most parents will profess that they do more than their partner. More cleaning, more parenting, more shopping, more cooking. Feeling like the division of labor is unequal can often result in feelings of anger and resentment. But when couples are asked to empathically think about what the other person actually does, most can make long lists of the things that their partner does as well. It seems that usually this fight is less about division of labor and more a cry for recognition. Parenthood is about doing a million things every day that go unnoticed, undocumented and unappreciated. It can feel lonely and tiring and endless. The rewards are often subtle and long-term. On a day-to-day basis, we want to know that our partner gets how hard we are working for the children, for the family, for each other. Even if that means fighting about who did the laundry and who took out the garbage. The real message is, “I want you to recognize what I bring to the family. I want you to see me.”

Listening: “It’s like I’m talking to a wall. They never listen to me.” Communication is hard when you’re stressed, tired and overwhelmed. Listening is hard as well. It’s easy for partners to blame the other one for not listening, but the truth is oftentimes there is more to it than that. We aren’t identifying our real needs, we are fighting instead of talking, we are lecturing instead of communicating. Couples may choose times to try to talk that are so full of barriers to effective communication that it’s a lost cause (when one person is exhausted, while the kids are running frantic, while the family is trying to get out the door in the morning). And then we say, “Once again, you didn’t listen to me.” What’s really happening is that paths aren’t crossing. The real message is, “I feel like we aren’t connecting. We aren’t on the same page.”

Trust: “They question everything I do.” There is so much discussion about trust in parenting and its impact on child development. Trusting a child encourages them to develop naturally and with confidence. In the same way, we often fail to give our partners that same trust in their own development. Parents are each developing their own relationships with each child, their own nuanced communication patterns and identities as parents and often this can look and feel different from our own. (Moms are often the worst offenders here, not letting dads explore and define their own relationships with the kids, being quick to jump in and parent when things are tricky.) Partners need to trust each other so that each person can feel free to explore and optimize their role in the family. The real message here is, “Trust me, support me, learn with me.”

So what can we do to start to experience things differently? Many parents of older children (at least those whose relationships don’t end in divorce) will confirm that they eventually found each other again and things got easier. That’s good news for sure, and it’s important to remember that these struggles are transitory and will likely pass. Kind of like the “terrible twos.” But what if, like with our parenting, rather than just grinning and bearing it, we tried to engage with each other in a way that would encourage each other’s developmental growth, deepen our relationship with each other and strengthen our family during this amazingly challenging time? Here are some things to try:

1)      Make a sacred time and space to talk about these issues. This is not a date night where you talk about the kids. Nor is it 15 minutes after the kids fall asleep when you are both struggling to stay awake. I’m talking about a regularly allotted time, both people fully alert and present, fully dedicated to talking about what’s going on. Maybe even take the list of Developmental Triggers that are listed above as conversation starters.

2)      View each other with compassion. Remember that relationship stressors are normal at this time and that you and your partner are both experiencing amazing personal challenges. Letting go of frustration, breathing and looking at the situation through your partner’s eyes can allow you to see things differently.

3)      It is human to resist change and try to hold on to what we think we know. Parenthood brings on such drastic changes to our family and to ourselves that we sometimes don’t know which way is up. Realizing that our relationships and our own identity may look very different and being open to that allows us to let go, relax and enjoy the new roles and relationships that are in front of us.

4)      Talk about parenting! Embrace your new roles, encourage each other to explore parenting ideas and theories. Debate and discuss and read together. Rather than trying to hold on to your pre-kid relationship while each of you individually tries to figure out what your post-kid relationship is all about, dive in, let go of the past and relish in this stage of life. Soon enough, the kids will need you less and less and you will find yourselves sitting in a quiet house, staring at each other saying, “What do we do without the kids around?”

5)      Find ways to support each partner’s development both as a parent and as a person. Make time in the family for individual interests and find ways that the family can honor and support them. How can the family, including the children, support the parent in developing their own thing? Does someone love to cook? Maybe they get a kid-free night to take a cooking class, then cook a new meal once a week that everyone enjoys together.

6)      Rather than just missing the things you used to do as a couple, build new traditions, routines and shared experiences that fit into your new and changing life.

It’s all about embracing the change, the ups and downs, the challenges and struggles. It’s all about growing as individuals, as a couple, as a family. When we do this, when we really connect to ourselves and our partners, we will thrive in our own development and in our relationships. And when we thrive as individuals and as a couple, we can thrive as parents. And thriving families lead to thriving children, which as we know, lead to thriving adults. And that’s a cycle we should absolutely perpetuate.

 Posted by at 3:19 pm
Oct 032011
 

Recently, my children blessed me with about an hour of freedom to get some housework done. It came at a cost of course, but it also resulted in some amazing developments, for them as well as for me. The scenario went something like this:

My three-year-old asked if the boys could play with chalk and draw on the chalk wall that is in our kitchen, his younger brother bounced up and down, pointing at the chalk wall in excitement. Sure, it seemed like a great idea for a soggy morning. I brought out the box of chalk and the two of them went at it. I sat and watched them for a minute and relished in the vision of the two of them, drawing side by side. I held back from commenting on their activity or getting involved, impressed with the moments that they play and interact together so comfortably.

I ventured out of the kitchen and thought about my to-do list. I wondered if their activity would last long enough for me to clean the bathroom. I started with something simple and swept the bathroom floor. The house was quiet. I tiptoed into the kitchen and peeked around the corner. Still working. I saw my three-year-old tell his younger brother, “It’s a space ship,” and my younger son smiled and nodded.

I went back to the bathroom. Not trusting fully in the longevity of what was happening, I cautiously pulled out the cleaning products, sure they would bound down the hallway at any moment. I took a deep breath and told myself to stop wasting time. I started cleaning. Alone, in the bathroom.

I checked on them several times, sure that I would find them in some precarious position, climbing countertops, eating chalk, smothering each other in some dangerous way. But each time, I found them in unbelievably cooperative play, creating a work of art. It was too good to be true.

I left them to it and continued my chores. I finished the bathroom and moved on to my bedroom. This was amazing. It couldn’t last. The house was quiet. I ventured out one more time to the kitchen, and there it was. I just knew it. The boys had developed a method for turning the chalk into powder and were diligently working together to cover the entire kitchen floor with a rainbow of fine powdery color. Green, red, purple, white, and orange dust blanketed the floor and covered them from head to toe.

I froze and felt my breath catch in my throat. My immediate reaction was to intervene and put a stop to what was no less than a messy disaster, but something stopped me. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the moment I intervened would be the end of my relative freedom to finish my chores. Perhaps it was an understanding that my intervention would also put an end to the cooperation and brotherly bonding that was going on. I took inventory and realized that the mess they were creating was a done deal and I made a conscious choice to “look the other way” and finish my tasks before tackling theirs.

The boys noticed me standing there and squealed with delight, “Look, Mama, we are making moon dust! We put footprints in it that will be there forever!” They stomped around the kitchen in their moon dust, proudly laughing and giggling as the chalk dust rose in the air. “Looks like fun,” I said and walked away.

I went back to my chores, trying to ignore the mess I was eventually going to have to address, and trying to hold on to the last few moments of precious peace I would have for the day. And then, perhaps because I had left them to their own devices, left them to negotiate and explore the world on their own without my help, they shocked me one more time. About 10 minutes later, I heard them getting into the towel closet. Worried that the chalk was going to infiltrate the entire house, I went out, prepared to put an end to this disaster once and for all and set the motherly foot down.

“We’re getting towels to clean up our mess, Mama.”

Wow.

I nodded and left them alone. A few minutes later, I went to the kitchen and found them both spreading watery towels on the kitchen floor, pushing wet chalk around. I asked if they needed help and they agreed.

Together we cleaned up their chalk. They were so proud of their creation and seemed even prouder of their decision to clean up when they were done.

I wondered to myself what happened.

I had trusted them to explore the world on their own. I had let them push the boundaries of what is normal and comfortable and refrained from engaging in any way, even to praise or encourage them. I had just let them be. While I would love to profess that I did this for some developmentally-driven, well thought out reasoning, the truth is that I simply did it because I was feeling a little bit selfish and enjoying my own moment of peace.

But, a miraculous thing happened. The boys created their own moment, experienced the world in their own way, flourished in their own imaginations, and showed a level of responsibility and awareness of the boundaries of the world that I never imagined they had in cleaning up after themselves. I never could have created all that if I had tried to formulate an experience or designated myself as the leader of their activity. They only really got all of that because they had the freedom and the space to start a task and see it through to the finish without me getting in the way.

And I got a little time to myself.

I wonder how often I intervene when I don’t have to. How often do I step in when situations get a little uncomfortable for me and, in doing so, limit my children’s experiences of the world? There are, of course, times when we must step in and guide our children away from danger. And there are many times when we have to guide our children to do certain things because things need to get done, we have places to go and things to do. But oftentimes, we are guiding them away from experiences not because anything drastic is going to happen or out of any kind of necessity, but merely because their way is messy or inconvenient or different from how we imagined it would be.

While difficult to do in the moment, I believe strongly that allowing children space to experience the world on their own terms is crucial at every stage of development. It allows them to develop a sense of who they are in the world, allows them ownership over their thoughts and ideas and experiences. The chalk was their moon dust… The mess was their mess. For toddlers, freedom happens in safe spaces like this. As children get older, parents have to expand the area and offer bigger and bigger opportunities for freedom. This means parenting may be a little less comfortable at times as we give up control. But it may also mean that we have a little more room to breathe and a little more room to grow. Sometimes, we need to get out of the way of our children’s development.

 Posted by at 2:48 pm
Aug 222011
 

As soon as new parents find out they are pregnant, the wonder, curiosity and obsession with their child’s development begins. From day one we are constantly thinking about how the little ones are growing and changing. This week they develop fingernails, this week they start moving around, this week they can start to hear voices around them.  We think about their mental development, their physical development, their emotional development. We gush as they start to build networks of friends. We get excited when parallel play turns to cooperative play. We email everyone we know when they make the swim team or discover that they are amazing rock collectors. We are intimately aware of the fact that they are developing into adults and we want to make sure that they have support, opportunity and resources to make the most of each exciting new step.

But where does this development end? When they go off to college? When they get married? When they have their own kids? The fact of the matter is that human development never stops. We are constantly moving from one developmental milestone to the next. What we see in our children is nothing short of miraculous, and it is amazing to watch but in reality we as parents are still developing ourselves.  I wonder why this never makes the radar.

The transition into and through adulthood can be just as challenging, exciting and rewarding as what our little ones experience. We are struggling to find out who we are away from our families of origin. We are redefining ourselves in terms of partnerships, careers, marriages and friendships. We are learning to negotiate life without having a parent tell us what to do and when to do it. We are learning to look at ourselves outside of the predefined context of school or education. We are starting to develop more mature tastes and preferences. We are starting to become financially stable. Our bodies are changing (yes, still). Our politics are changing. Our minds are changing. Finally, the world is our oyster, we have it together.

It’s all about us.

And then we have kids.

And the world shifts.

It’s all about them.

Oh man, is it all about them! Their wants. Their needs. Their development. Their friends. Their activities. Their growth.

But what about us? What about the parents? Our development has not come to an end. On the contrary, quite the opposite is true. Not only are we continuing in our path of developmental milestones, but now instead of having all the energy focused on ourselves, we have to do it blind, while taking care of someone else, with no sleep, and probably with one hand tied behind our back (or holding a baby so to speak.)

And not only that, but now our developmental changes are compounded by this new person. Now who we are, who we want to be, how we define ourselves, how we interact with others is all impacted by parenthood.  It is all too easy to lose ourselves in all of the wonder and joy and chaos and fear of parenting. It is all too easy to forget our own spiritual, emotional, mental and physical development. It is all too easy to ignore our own developmental needs at the expense of giving everything to our child.

So, often parents find themselves feeling overwhelmed, depressed, scared and lonely as children seem to require a never ending need of energy. New couples feel estranged from each other as a new family member shifts the dynamics of the entire family system.  New roles are defined as old ones are abandoned.  And to top it all off, just when we think we have it all figured out and have settled into our new roles with a working rhythm, the children’s needs change, our needs changes, our family members’ needs changes. And it’s back to the drawing board. Each family member’s personal developmental path creates new demands on the family’s resources and everyone has to shift again.

Despite this amazingly complicated and intertwined system of developmental challenges that impacts all family members, it seems that parenting books focus only on the child and their development needs. But what about the parent? Maybe it is time to put PARENT back in parenting. We need to define resources and places where parental development is paramount to healthy child development.  And not just parents learning how to be better parents, but parents focusing on and embracing their own personal growth, acknowledging and understanding their own developmental milestones, and thriving in (rather than surviving) each developmental stage. THEN we can help our children do the same.

 Posted by at 2:55 pm
Jul 182011
 

As a child I remember standing in the ocean letting the waves wash over my feet. I was exhilarated by the power and strength of each wave. I would watch in anticipation, hopping from foot to foot, as the waves built up and came closer to shore. As they got closer, I would reach for my dad’s hand, making sure he was close. I wanted to stand on my own two feet, but I also wanted to make sure that he was near by if I needed him. As the waves washed over me, I was always surprised and sometimes overwhelmed.  A mixture of fear and glee filled me. My tummy tickled and my heartbeat quickened. The cold water took my breath away and I could feel the tricky sand shifting under my feet. I wondered if it would sweep me out to sea. I felt proud, relieved and excited as I realized I was still standing strong as the wave retreated. I jumped up and down and pointed out, yelling up to my dad “Look!” as I waited for the next one.

Sometimes I managed the waves on my own. At the edge of the water I felt pretty confident in my ability to stay standing. I also knew that if I fell, I could easily get back up. I could toddle around in the easy waves on my own, my parents safe within my eyesight. I checked often to make sure they were there. But as I went deeper, I wanted them close. A little farther in and I needed my parents hand to keep myself steady. A little bit farther and I wanted to be safe in their arms. They were my pillar. I trusted that the waves wouldn’t wash them away and that I could use their strength (either in the arms, holding their hand, or just being near them) to brave the waves that would have otherwise been too big for me, the waves that would have washed me out to sea. They gave me the strength, power, and courage to learn how to play in the waves on my own.

As I think about parenting today, I think of these pillars and waves. Growing up can be scary, tricky and overwhelming. To little ones, emotions, problems and challenges are just like waves. They look on them with anticipation. “I can do it myself!” They become quickly overwhelmed when the waves are bigger than they expect. They fall down when the tricky sands shift underneath them. If we support them in mastering the small waves first, they will soon be ready to take on bigger ones. Little by little, they get stronger and more experienced in negotiating the waves of life. Little by little, they move farther and farther from us. Their parents. Their pillars. Sometimes they just need us close. Sometimes they need our hands. Sometimes they need to hide in the warmth of our arms. Even as adults, it never really changes. Our parents are our pillars. Just a few years ago, during an emotional crisis I flew across the country to be close to mine, their voices over the phone just weren’t enough. I needed to be close to my pillars. The waves were just too strong.

If my parents had never let me out of their arms to feel the power of the waves myself, I never would have learned to play in the ocean. But if they never held me close, I wouldn’t have ventured out. And if I did, I might not have been ready. Likewise, if we never let the little ones experience the rush of life, the power of emotion, the trickiness of challenges they will never learn to live life to the fullest. The challenge then, for parents is to know when to stand close, when to lend a hand, when to hold them close, and when to back away.

I always ask myself: “How big is this wave?”

 Posted by at 7:05 am