With the changing of the light: Parenting through transitions
When the light changes with the fading of summer and the arrival of autumn, something in me breaks loose. I’m no longer bound by the routines and busyness that normally hold me, ground me and keep me put-putting peacefully through my days. It’s as though this other woman who’s been resting quietly blinks her eyes and looks around and says, “what the f is going here?” My state of mind takes on a Kate Chopin character flavor- restless, anxious, detached, more prone to sadness and loneliness. I become less sure of myself and maybe even self-absorbed. I’m old enough now to trust that this mood comes with the changing of the light. I am old enough to trust that I can be ok and not ok at the same time. I can let down the boundaries of how I define myself and trust that I will come back together
But my daughter is eight and for the first time experiencing a breaking loose. According to philosopher Rudolph Steiner- father of anthroposophy and the Waldorf education she is receiving- it is now in her ninth year that she sheds the last of her dream-like, imaginative, misty, early childhood self and begins to take root as an individual, aware for the first time of her aloneness in the world, that she is indeed separate from all that is around her. Steiner offers that this time can be incredibly uncomfortable for the child. She can feel- as I do this time of year- like “what the f is going on here?” She can be moody and mean. She can be self-absorbed and detached. And while I still feel the sweetness of my girl strongly, I also see her swing into this uncharted, uncomfortable place of new awareness. I see before me a tiny mirror of myself and how I feel now as the light fades and winter’s darkness approaches.
And dang, if it isn’t the most potent kind of teacher to bump up against yourself and try to hold your ground. When I am ready to let lose a fire-breathing roar, how do I instead mother this child as I long to- with patience, gentleness, love, strength, and clarity. To be a boulder amidst her crashing emotions. My most frequently called upon parenting advice on this comes from Brene Brown. She said that the strongest indicator for how our children will turn out is how we choose to live our life. If we want our children to love their bodies, they need to see us pleased with our reflections in the mirror. If we want our children to be kind even when things aren’t going their way, they need to us at ease even when we’re running late. And perhaps most importantly during this time, if we want our children to be able to forgive themselves, they need to see us being gentle with ourselves when we make a mistake. When we let lose a fire- breathing roar, we forgive ourselves, we own our actions, we model repair. It is the small moments of living that they are paying most attention to. Not the inspirational lectures we impart when we’re feeling serene or passionate. There is just not an ounce of room to preach and not practice.
Here are powerful moments to let her know how much I understand how she is feeling and to model for her how to move through it with grace. So during this time when we both feel the frayed edge of our reality close at hand, I contemplate my strategic move. I cannot slink off to a room of my own. How do I make this safe for her?
Before I dive into that I want to pause and look at what it is that feels unsafe to her. And to me. When I dwell for longer in the questions of what I’m doing, and if I’m ok, and feeling alone- what is the fear that’s underneath those questions? My daughter answered it for me. One day she was crying and so upset, crumpled on her bed. I believe something drastic had happened. Perhaps I had asked her to stop her game and brush her teeth immediately. I most likely had used a rough impatient voice because perhaps it was the fourth or fifth time I was making the request. Like me, she doesn’t do well with roughness and her feelings were terribly hurt. I stood on the ground, looking up at her on her loft bed. Through her tears she said, “Oh when you’re 8 it’s just a time of feeling like such a bad girl. I feel like such a bad girl all the time.”
My heart broke. As a life coach, I have lots of conversations where we’re looking for the heart of how one of my clients is feeling. And I can feel it now—that moment when we strike on the truth of the matter. My daughter had struck on her truth. And how well I (maybe all of us?) know this feeling, my sweetheart. This feeling of being bad, of not good enough, of doing the wrong thing, of not quite getting it right no matter how hard you are trying. Of feeling like everyone around is echoing back a confirmation of my inadequacy.
Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun and mediation teacher, describes the essence of fear as that feeling of not quite being good enough. Of being unlovable or not worthy of love. Love from others but perhaps more importantly love from ourselves. We don’t deserve to be loved because we’re not good enough. She- and Buddhist teachings on the whole- describe enlightenment as the absence of fear. The path to enlightenment becomes then the path of learning to trust that we are good enough, that we are lovable. That we can be unshakably loved. The whole purpose of our time here on the earth becomes about learning to love ourselves and each other just as we are. It sounds like a platitude, but it is so very potent in practice. Brene Brown’s other piece of parenting wisdom that has stuck with me is that the most important thing we can do for our children is to instill in them how indestructible our love for them is. I can be frustrated with your choice to keep playing instead of brushing your teeth but my love for you is rock solid. My frustration does not penetrate my love, you will have that forever my girl.
How do I make it safe for my daughter to feel the darkness that is inherent our living? I step right toward it with her. I welcome in those feelings and feel my ground in spite of the groundlessness. I’m not going to try to solve it for her and pack it down into a little box and tie a bow on it so she thinks there’s a right way to do it. So if she doesn’t get it right then she’s wrong. I let her see that I make mistakes and I do my darndest to let her see that I can be gentle with myself when that happens. I verify for her that the best way to care for herself is to say out loud how she is feeling. Because, as soon as she does speak to loving ears, she will hear that she is not alone in her feelings. I hear you, my girl. And I won’t get it right each time. Neither will you. But I will love you anyway, always.