Recently, I was speaking with a friend about my struggle with parenting young adults. I feel like it was a little more simple when my daughters were younger. When they fell down, I could clean and kiss the boo-boo and make it better. When they struggled at school, I could march over to the schoolyard and speak up to teachers and bullies. When they were sick, I could find various doctors, make appointments, cook nutritious meals and get them back to health.
I’ve made a career out of giving folks tools in their toolbox for health and well-being and I can see how it’s not always easy having a mom who seems to know (or, thinks she does) how to “fix” things in this domain.
As they get older, I realize there is not much more I can do except continue to love, support them, and (the hardest part) to “let go.” When it comes to parenting, I honestly hate those words. I can let go of a lot of things, a rainy day when I was hoping for sun, the hand sanitizer that leaked all over the papers in my backpack, or (much harder) a concrete plan of when I can see family in California again. Letting go is possible with certain things. But, I’ve discovered that when it comes to parenting, I’ve compartmentalized “letting go.”
One meditation teacher recently reminded me that maybe I should forget about “letting go” when it comes to those bigger, more challenging things and just “be willing to let go.” When she said this, I paused and tried it on like a pair of new shoes. “Hmmm, I am willing to let go of being a problem solving, fix everything parent.” (Give it a try...fill in your own item you’re willing to let go of here _____.) I know it’s semantics, but I love words and these words work for me. Being “willing to let go” feels good. Feels like a baby step, a toe in the water of actually being able to let go.
As an overthinker and lover of words, I began to also struggle with getting my words out and heard by my two fiercely independent daughters (see my previous post on “right speech”). When they became teenagers and more self-sufficient, I told myself, “You have to get creative, if you want to get your point across.” So, I came up with a strategy. When something needed to be said about doing a chore or taking responsibility for something; I’d playfully preface my words with, “Brace yourself, here comes a momma speech...Are ya ready for it?” It worked a few times. I’d also say something like, “I know you already know this and that you might not need to hear it, but I need to say it”...Then I would delicately state my request. It worked for a few years until they became wise to me. It was like trying to deliver left-overs on a fancy platter.
My good friend in California reminded me that sometimes it’s how you plate something. She put her left-overs on a fancy platter and topped them with mashed potatoes. “What’s that?” her teens asked tentatively. “It’s upside-down shepherd's pie.” She replied. “Cool,” they said and dug in. “It’s how you plate it,” she said.
“Are you wearing your retainer at night?” “Do you need to put bandaids on your feet with those new sandals?” “Don’t you think you should be going to bed earlier?” These words to my daughters fell on dead ears. I remembered the wisdom of my mother, who would follow up a request with a playful nudge like, “Suggest suggest.” That’s it! I’ll try that, my crafty momma brain thought, rubbing her hands together.
So, the next time I asked my 21-year-old daughter, “Don’t you think you should look into getting your driver's license? It’s a good skill to have.” (Not an easy task as we don’t own a car and public transportation works great for all of us). So, I delivered my request about the driver’s license on a new version of the same old platter, paused for a moment, and said, “Suggest suggest.” She looked me squarely in the eyes and replied, “Refuse refuse.” Back to the drawing board.
Parenting, sometimes feels like a tightrope walk, like I’m a “Flying Wallenda” teetering, blindfolded over Niagara Falls. Young adults need that space to figure it out on their own, to fall down and heal their own “boo-boos” and develop the intrinsic motivation to get the things they want to do, done. In their way, not mine.
When that meddling voice of judgment rings loud in my head and subsequently, turns into speech, I find myself creating more problems than solutions for them. The voice of reason in my head reminds me; “Step away from the children.”
Like a Flying Wallenda, I’m still looking for that middle place between compassion, which sometimes means staying silent, and fierceness, which sometimes means loving but clear speech. My practice also includes being okay with my words being messy, not being well-received, and not delivered on some fancy, antiquated platter. I’m consoled by the words of Mother Teresa:
You will teach them to fly,
but they will not fly your flight.
You will teach them to dream,
but they will not dream your dream.
You will teach them to live,
but they will not live your life.
Nevertheless, in every flight, in every life, in every dream, the print of the way you taught them will remain.
P.S. How did she know?