If you live long enough…

mom and teen PDOne of my favorite sayings from my friend Faye is “If you live long enough…”  I can’t tell you how many times this phrase has helped me to re-evaluate my perspective and take a longer view of my parenting.
When we’re in the midst of the day to day challenges of parenting, it can seem like every undesirable behavior is an indication of a dire future for our child. If she fights with her younger sibling or if she is unwilling to share with her friends, it means she will live a life of social isolation and failed relationships.  Or we will be viewed as incompetent parents and shunned from our communities.  If our teen sleeps until noon on weekends or defies the curfew agreement, it means he will never be able to hold a job and will have trouble following rules out there in the “real world.”  Our minds can come up with some doozies of worst case scenarios and we wind up using parenting strategies that are based on fear rather than love.
It’s good to have a friend like Faye (as a grandmother, she’s “been there, done that”) to remind you: You know what?  “If you live long enough…” you’ll find that most of your worries about the future never pan out and most things work out satisfactorily in the long run.
We sometimes think we have to directly “teach” our children values and good character traits.  When really they come into this world hardwired to develop toward thriving and belonging.  We just have to prepare the soil and water those seeds in them.  They’re already there.  We really don’t have to “teach” them that much. We just have to provide the environment and the nurturance for them to blossom into who they already are naturally becoming.

So when my friend Faye says, “If you live long enough…,” it means if you prepare the soil, give it lots of attention and love, the seeds will blossom eventually in their own time.

Some of you may be like I was and want your child to be a “mini-me.”  To handle situations the way you would handle them, to think about things the way you would think about them, and to act the way you would act.  What I’ve come to believe is my most important job as a parent is to love and accept my child as he is and encourage him to grow into who he is becoming…rather than grooming him to be a mini-me.

Love and acceptance…
not love…and be like me
This is really hard sometimes, especially if your child starts to go in a very different direction than you would.  But “if you live long enough…”
Last night my older son came in from college for Thanksgiving and we went to eat breakfast this morning.  On the way out of the restaurant I was walking in front of him and I pushed my way through the exit door.  Then I heard my son behind me say, “Mom, wait!  I would like to open the door for you but I can’t.  You’re walking way too fast.”I had to smile, remembering the many years I tried and failed (so I thought) to “teach” him the gentlemanly act of opening doors for ladies.  Growing up, he refused to do it or did it with a lot of grumbling and resented it being expected of him.  Since I managed to get through those years by picking my battles, the gentlemanly opening of doors didn’t make the battle list and I let it go.
But I’ve lived long enough and …. He got it!  In his own time.  In his own way.

What is it about your kids that you’re afraid that if you don’t “nip it in the bud” now that they will turn out irreparably damaged?  Whatever it is, I encourage you to expand your view and take a longer perspective. If they are resisting, and you fight hard to “teach” your value or your expectation, I predict your efforts will backfire.

I invite you bring some acceptance around it, knowing that if you consistently model the value that is important to you, your child is likely to learn the value on her own, in her own time.  See if you can model and encourage the value without it becoming a demand or expectation.

If I could give you the perfect gift this holiday season it would be to give you…a friend like Faye.  Someone who invites you to take a “reality check.”  Someone who has gone before and can lead the way through the jungle of parenting with confidence and assurance.   Everyone needs a friend like Faye when they’re in the thick and thin of it, when it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  Everyone needs a reminder of the natural unfolding of things…of the way time itself takes care of many imagined problems…“if you live long enough.”

 

What I would ask Nancy Lanza

Memorial for Sandy Hook victims

Even as the New Year dawns and I’m teased with new beginnings and bright possibilities, I’m also still mourning how the Old Year concluded with the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I find that I keep vacillating between tears and numbness; I can only hold so much sorrow and despair before I have to shut down for a while and not feel. Then slowly, the sadness and grief return.

What has touched me most in this ordeal is reading about Adam’s mom, Nancy, and how it appears she was so isolated while dealing with her son’s increasingly extreme social withdrawal. Aside from a few conversations with casual friends, it appears that she faced her uncertainties, worries, and hard choices alone.  Her acquaintances are quick to describe her as happy and cheerful, but I imagine a different Nancy Lanza living behind the closed doors of her big beautiful home in Newtown.  I imagine a mom who desperately wanted her son to “fit in” and who was sick with worry about how to reach him as he slipped away, receding further and further into his own world.

This breaks my heart because it hits close to home for me. When my son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and we were dealing with some pretty severe behaviors day in and day out and I, too, felt he was slipping away, there were times when I thought I would lose my mind.  If I hadn’t had a couple good friends around me to hear my painful stories, to witness my struggles and to just be there to love me through it, I don’t know how it would have turned out. (Thank you Faye and Donna!) What I learned from that experience is it’s easy to become isolated when you have a “problem” child.  It’s hard to find sitters and play dates and friends who will go the distance with you.

I see this isolation often as I work with parents who have children with challenging behaviors, whether it’s violent outbursts or extreme social withdrawal.  It’s easy to wag a finger at the parent and find fault with their parenting.  It’s easy to give well-meaning advice of just do this, and that should solve the problem.  But unless you’ve ever lived with a child who doesn’t respond the same way as a “normal” child to “traditional” parenting techniques, then I’m here to tell you, “You don’t have a clue!”  What these parents need is not finger-wagging and advice, but compassion and acceptance, so that they feel like part of the human family again.

We can second-guess Nancy and think, “if only she had done this, that, or the other,” and we can blame her for taking Adam to shooting ranges and teaching him to fire a gun—just like we can judge the actions or inactions of other parents who have “weird” or “unruly” or “bully” kids.   But I don’t think fault-finding helps anyone.  I think it fuels the shame and fear of judgment that parents of children who are “different” often feel.  And shame and fear is what keeps these parents and families isolated.  What I would like to see is for us to love and support the Nancy Lanzas in our communities–the parents who are struggling with family life, often very much alone.

If only I could get in a time machine and reach out to Nancy before this awful tragedy, I would ask her, “You seem worried.  What’s going on?  How can I help?  What do you need?”  I would listen with my whole heart and I would hold a safe non-judgmental space for her to share her struggles, and to begin to heal.  Because I know when parents heal their own pain, they can help their children to heal too.  When parents receive compassion and acceptance themselves, they can extend the same to their children…and there’s a lot of children out there starving for compassion and acceptance.

As a parenting educator/coach, I’ve seen the power of a group of parents who come together to support each other.  A foundation of my classes is developing empathic listening, so parents are paired up and spend time outside of class just listening to each other.  Not giving advice, not trying to fix or console, but just listening. The parents are always astounded at how much this simple practice supports them.  As one mom recently said, “My friends and I talk all the time about parenting stuff, but this is a different quality of listening.  The word that comes to mind is transformative.”

Who knows what kind of ripple effect a supportive listening ear would have made for Nancy and possibly many other lives?  Would it have been enough to change the trajectory of what was to come?  It’s too late to know the answer in regards to Nancy Lanza, but there are many struggling, exhausted parents out there right now who need our support—perhaps it’s your neighbor, perhaps it’s your sister-in-law, perhaps it’s you.

My vision is a world where we create emotionally-safe, judgment-free communities where parents can come together,  share their struggles, be accepted no matter what is happening or how they are handling it, and be supported and nurtured by each other.  If this sounds like the kind of community you would like to be a part of, I invite you to join me in this quest and reach out to a parent who is struggling in your community today.
Rest in peace…Nancy, Allison, Ana Grace, Anne Marie, Avielle, Benjamin, Caroline, Catherine, Charlotte, Chase, Daniel, Dawn, Dylan, Emilie, Grace, Jack, James, Jesse, Jessica, Josephine, Lauren, Madeleine, Mary, Noah, Olivia Rose, Rachel, Victoria, and Adam.