Parenting is a minefield of life lessons. Some of us walk into this territory armed with maps and plans, yet we are caught off guard repeatedly. Convinced that we must have right of way as the adults in the relationship, we resist our role as learners. Somewhere in the middle years, when our children are no longer physically dependent on us, we begin to relax, hoping the toughest years are behind us.
We learn again, that we have a lot more to unlearn. As parents, we have signed up for a relentless self-improvement course.
“Your children are your teachers,” texted a friend who is raising two teenage children in Atlanta. She usually seeks me out when she is having a difficult moment and needs to vent. I wait for her to elaborate.
“My Brazilian therapist, who is also a yoga trainer and studies ayurveda, offered me this gyan,” came the next text. “I came all the way to America to be coached by someone who is inspired by ancient Indian wisdom. She says that the people we have the toughest time dealing with are present in our lives to teach us what we need to learn. In my case, that seems to be my children.”
My friend is a top boss in the corporate world. She manages teams stationed in various countries and is admired for her meticulous detailing, calm demeanour and sense of humour. Yet, she struggles as a parent, unable to function well when flexibility is more valuable than structure and listening takes precedence over giving instructions.
When she talks to me, I can see from my distance that she loves her children but doesn’t know how to honour them. As a parent, she expects her role to be in control, to call the shots, to take decisions on their behalf and to be the recipient of their gratitude.
This wouldn’t be a problem if she achieved the results she expects. Her children, both on the cusp of young adulthood, have learned to tune her out. They nod dutifully when she tells them what to do, but they are sluggish, forgetful and absent-minded about performing according to her instructions.
She is convinced the children and the rest of the world have ganged up against her.
“Make lists,” I text back to her. “Do at home what you would do at work when you have a problem that needs to be broken down into its components to be solved.”
“You make a list and send it to me,” she replies, doing what she is good at — delegating work.
Here’s my freewheeling list of lessons picked up on the way to becoming a parent who is sometimes expected to be smarter than she feels:
1) We desperately need to feel we are in charge, but the main lesson of it all is to let go, to loosen up, to allow home to be a safe space where we can experiment with being our varied selves. Authority is over-rated. Distract yourself from trying to assume control.
2) Forget about getting it right one day. It isn’t about who is right or wrong. It is about stepping back to allow others to step forward. Making space for the flawed, conflicted, real you to be seen openly, without feeling judged.
3) Everything we feel is tainted by the fear of judgment. Give yourself the freedom to be judged by others without feeling guilty, wrong or small. This is the first step towards learning to accept differences, especially in those closest to us.
4) Take frequent naps. Learn from your pets and little children. For bouts of high energy effectiveness, reward yourself with sleep that helps you replenish and restart. It also brings peace to the ecosystem.
5) Treat meltdowns as milestones — whether they are your own or that of your child’s. Like a pause on a long journey. You will get tired. You will miss a speed bump. You need to change pace. Be ready to bend, so you don’t have to break.
6) Neglect problems. More often than not, trying to solve a knot in one’s relationships in a hurry only makes it tighter rather than smoothen it. Conflicts in intimate relationships reveal themselves slowly. Give them the time they need.
7) Rejection is a great teacher. So is failure. Find healthy ways to separate yourself from being entangled with each other all the time, so that you can come together in love some of the times.
8) Days are long, months go fast, but the years, the years just seem to be on the run. Prolong the childhood of your children as long as you can. Prolong yours for the rest of your life. You deserve it.
9) Growing up means learning to deal with your pain without needing to hurt someone else. Learn to be kind to yourself instead of pleasing everyone else for validation.
10) Raising children empowers us; it offers us a chance to find our own lost selves. Embrace them, so you can embrace yourself fully.
— The writer is an author and filmmaker firstname.lastname@example.org