Put down the rock

put down the rock

put down the rockOften our suffering comes because we have an idea of how things ought to be and they aren’t that way. The way we think things ought to be, our expectations and disappointments, they are like a rock we keep carrying around even though the rock weighs us down and keeps us stuck.

Sometimes we pick up the rock in our childhood when we get told that the way to a good life is this one particular way. Maybe the rock is our ideas about the career we want to have or the children we want to parent. We have this picture of how it has to be and that becomes our ideal, the rock that we carry into our Real Lives where things are more complicated and often uglier.

Maybe we don’t pick it up. Maybe it’s handed to us when someone tells us that we will be happier if we get prettier or smarter or nicer. Then the rock becomes the perfect self we want to be. We live under the heavy pressure of that flawless version of our imperfect selves.

So the way to happiness is easy, right? Just put down the rock.

But the thing about these rocks is that over the years we get used to carrying them. They may be heavy but we start to believe that they protect us. As long as we’re carrying them then we’re also carrying the hope that we can make them come true and that somehow keeps us safe. It’s scary to think things like, “I might never be as thin as I want to be.” or “I might never find the perfect partner.”

If we put the rock down, then what do we have to cling to? If we put it down, we have to confront the truth that we might need to learn to be happy without those things we so desperately want. And that’s scary.

I have put down rocks in my time and sometimes it’s a gradual thing. I’d try setting it down just for a minute — just around people who felt safe or just in certain situations. I’d keep that rock nearby just in case I needed its protection; it was proof that I wasn’t giving up or giving in, just taking a break.

Eventually I put it down for good and then I felt weightless, which sounds fun but can be scary. After all, if you’re weightless, how will you know if the earth is safely under you? What if you float off into space without a rock to weigh you down? What if you miss all of the people still crouching under their burdens, unable (or unwilling) to join you a few feet off the ground?

It gets better. Eventually you will realize that the rock wasn’t keeping you safe; it was keeping you trapped. You will straighten up and look around and see that right here in this minute, without your view being blocked by that big old boulder you were carrying, you can see the good things right in front of you.

That rock, it was lying. It was telling you that you couldn’t be happy until this or until that but when you put it down — put it down for good — you’ll see that your happiness is where you make it. You can find it wherever you like.

So go ahead. Put down the rock.

Good parenting doesn’t always feel good

good parenting doesn't always feel good

good parenting doesn't always feel good

Parenting is often joyous, rewarding, fulfilling and fun. Parenting is also often lousy, frustrating and draining.

This is because parenting is a relationship and relationships are both wonderful and hard. And it’s also because the parent/child dynamic is full of complications and expectations that are hard to manage on a good day let alone on the day when you forgot to set your alarm and it’s raining and your kid announces (just as you get everyone hustled into the car to rush them late to school) that they need to have $2.75 for the field trip on Thursday.

It doesn’t feel good to doubt that your child is ever going to grow into a responsible person.

It doesn’t feel good to hear them whine about the rain or the money or about being late.

It doesn’t feel good for your last conversation of the morning to be one full of yelling.

I know that. I know you want to do better. I know you want your kids to do better. But it doesn’t mean that you’re doing a bad job of parenting.

Unfortunately we can’t actually look at our kids for proof that we’re doing a good job; they don’t always show what great jobs we’re doing with stellar behavior and cheerful dispositions. We never get to say, “Boy, I nailed that situation so I’m gonna rest on my laurels for the rest of the week!” because there’s always another situation coming down the pike that demands brand new attention and resources.

We can’t even say to ourselves, “At least they’re happy” when they’re decidedly unhappy due to all the yelling going on at school drop off that morning.

To survive parenting with our heart and souls intact, we have to be Big Picture thinkers.

Let’s use taking out the trash as an example. Many of us want our kids to take on this necessary and important job. That’s good parenting, having reasonable chore expectations and holding your child to those expectations. But by doing that, we might have to be subjected to a stomping, snarling, grouch of a kid who’s arguing with us about the injustice represented by forced garbage emptying.

If this is such great parenting, why does it feel so lousy?

Are we raising spoiled kids? Unreasonable kids?

Are we unreasonable parents? Unfair parents?

The answer is neither. This is what it looks like, this good parenting. Sometimes it looks ugly and sometimes it doesn’t feel good.

This doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

You and your child are going to have conflicts because that’s the nature of being two different people who live together. In your Big Picture parenting where you’re building on your values of teamwork and responsibility and kindness and compassion you’re going to knock heads with each other.

Think about it: You’re trying to raise up people who will understand that garbage cans need to be emptied; and that we all have to do jobs we don’t like for the good of the whole. That’s what you’re trying to do. They on the other hand are trying to do other stuff like finish this one level on a video game or win this argument with their sibling or see how long they can ignore you before you’ll give up and leave them alone.

They’re also trying to grow up, with all that entails. (Just like we’re also trying to pay the mortgage and get dinner on the table.)

See, they don’t value trash removal yet so you’re trying to get buy-in from someone who simply doesn’t share your point of view about this particular job. No wonder they’re grouchy about it.

So that’s one thing, which is that if you’re going to be focused on growing those people — turning “who cares about the trash” people into “I care about the trash” people — then you’ll need to accept that it’s not always going to be pretty.

Here’s how you know if the feeling bad thing is really and truly a problem:

  1. If you chronically feel bad about your parenting or feel bad way more often than you feel good then it’s time to check in with someone.
  2. If you start to avoid promoting your Big Picture values because you can’t stand the inevitable conflict. Long term, this is just going to lead to more frustration and unhappiness on your part.
  3. If you feel you’ve lost your way and aren’t sure what your Big Picture values even are. If you don’t have a vision for what you want for yourself or your family or your individual child, it’s time to get some perspective.

In any of those cases, I’d say it’s a good sign that some supportive, understanding, clarifying counseling is in order.

Kids outgrow everything

Kids outgrow things

Kids outgrow thingsOne of my hardest parenting lessons happened when my son was about a year and a half. Seemingly overnight, my lovely little blue-eyed baby turned into a tiny hissing grouch monster with flailing feet and fists. He went from generally amenable around transitions to someone I had to carry kicking and screaming from grandma’s house, the resale shop and various restaurants. From a cuddly person who always wanted to be carried in the sling he became someone who insisted on walking “by self!” and when expected to hand-hold in a parking lot became a wailing dead weight.

Dinner time, nap time, go downstairs time, greet daddy at the door time, put on shoes time, change diaper time — they were all opportunities for him to lose his dang mind (and for me to lose mine).

It was awful.

It was me, I knew it was me. I was the worst mother ever. My experience working with other people’s kids, it felt useless. I remember crying in the passenger seat of our car while my husband drove us away from yet another public tantrum saying, “I don’t know what I’ve done! I think I broke him!” And I had a list a mile long of every little thing I might have done wrong.

And then this wonderful thing happened, which was an old friend from my job at the shelter called me because her daughter (exactly one month older than my son) was doing the same exact thing and she wanted my advice. Which was hilarious of course because I had no idea how to fix any of it. But as we talked (and cried and eventually laughed) we both realized, oh, this is toddlers. This is a toddler thing. Here we were trying to raise babies — using all those mad baby raising skills we’d perfected — and they’d turned into toddlers so that baby stuff didn’t work anymore.

This taught me several things:

  1. Talking to other mothers, the ones you can really get real with, can save your life.
  2. All the theory in the world — all the advice and technique — is no match for the emotional work of parenting. It’s one thing to understand why toddlers tantrum but it’s a whole different thing to learn how to deal with the emotional reality of parenting a tantrumming toddler.
  3. Kids outgrow everything including your tried and true parenting techniques.

That last one, that’s really the point I want to make today. Kids outgrow everything — clothes and car seats and parenting tools. So we know how to do things, we know how to handle our kids and then one day we realize that we don’t. It’s a terrible feeling especially because we don’t figure out that things don’t work anymore until, well, until they stop working. Which means that usually we need to fail in some way to realize we need to change up our game.

You know what it’s like? It’s like when you reach into the diaper bag at library story time for that extra pants for inevitable diaper blow outs and realize you’ve only got a summer sunsuit for a three-month old and nothing to fit the robust nine-month old in front of you on this crisp winter morning. You thought you were prepared — and you absolutely were prepared when you packed that diaper bag six or seven months ago — but time got away from you.

They outgrow stuff. We aren’t always ready for it.

Failing is no fun, especially when it comes to our kids, which is why I think we need to reframe the idea that it is a failure. Maybe that’s just what parenting looks like. Maybe it’s a lot messier than we thought and maybe we, as parents, need to know that sometimes (often) we’re going to be learning on the run. So my son completely flipping out over everything was his way of saying, “Yo, this isn’t working for me” and not a condemnation of every single thing that came before. All those things I was doing that felt like mistakes? They weren’t mistakes; they were just outdated. It worked until it didn’t, which is just how it’s going to be.

As parents, we will make decisions that we may eventually regret but that doesn’t mean they were the wrong decisions. We can only respond to what we know right then and there at the moment we’re making them. Later on down the line as things change — ourselves, our kids, our circumstances — we will be responding to new things and we will make new decisions.

With my son, one of the big decisions I made was to adjust my expectations. Once I realized that he was being a pretty typical toddler, I relaxed a whole lot. I planned for him to balk at transitions, I honed my transitioning techniques, and I made the rest of his life more toddler-friendly (a big thing for my son was that he was ready for new activities; I hadn’t realized that he was bored). And the next time we hit a breaking point, I recognized it for what it was — a time for me to stop and reassess, not proof that I was doing it all wrong.

Oh and then my daughter? Whole new thing, whole new path, whole new challenges. Because there is no such thing as figuring this out, the end. It’s always process and progress and a big old mess of love and struggle (thus the Mr. Rogers quote up there).

 

 

Balance is a verb

balance is a verb

balance is a verb

Balance isn’t a goal; it’s a practice. We tend to think of balance as something we achieve but balance, by its very nature, is temporary. We are constantly shifting the weight of our attention to accommodate change.

Imagine you’re the woman on the tightrope in the illustration above (and we all are the woman on the tightrope), you’re stepping out carefully, your arms flung out as you teeter this way and that. You shift your weight to maintain equilibrium. Even if you choose to stand still you have to contend with air currents that may catch you off guard, sudden gusts of wind that upset your temporary stillness. You are not in a state of balance, a place to stay at rest; you are balancing.

When we can accept balance as a practice then it’s much easier to accept that there will be times when we have to shift our attention. Sometimes you’ll have a great exercise routine going and then you’ll have an injury or a schedule change or the gym will close. Or you’ll finally figure out how to get your family fed more or less happily and someone will develop an allergy or start soccer or you’ll just burn out on cooking the same things all the time.

There will be times when one part of your life will demand more attention and these attention-grabbing events (new babies, new jobs, new relationships) will create disequilibrium; that’s the nature of those big events. You may temporarily lose sight of the other things that are important to you. When this happens, you may suddenly realize you’re on a tightrope that’s 50 feet above the ground and you may feel afraid.

It’s ok. Take a deep breath. You know how to do this.

Remember, the trick to balancing on a tightrope is to hunker down and lower your center of gravity. You will need to fold in for a bit and concentrate on your core. You will need to let some things go for a little while.

But you will get your footing again. You will be able to stand tall and begin shuffling forward, tilting this way and that, figuring out how to walk this tightrope of life with the new weight of those changes.

This is life. This is the nature of balancing. Because balance is a verb.

When the news is overwhelming

when the news is overwhelming

when the news is overwhelmingWhen I brought my newborn baby son home from the hospital we had a broken TV; it took at least 30 minutes to warm up. I was sleeping out on the futon in the living room of our tiny one bedroom apartment and I was leaving the television on all night, muted, so that when the baby woke to be fed I could sit up to nurse him. I needed something to keep me awake because I was so afraid of falling asleep and dropping him.

There were two news stories that played over and over again all night on the one channel (no cable) that stayed on the air twenty-four hours. They were horrific and they had video attached. For several nights I’d wake up to these images, nurse to them, tuck my baby back to sleep.

I can still see those videos, they color my memories of my son’s first week of life. They were dreaded companions to me learning to be a mother, shaping my anxieties in particular ways.

There is bad news today. There is often bad news but some days it’s more present than others. If your Facebook feed looks like mine, there is a lot of anguish mixed in with the day-to-day updates. There’s a lot of well founded outrage and calls to action.

I am thinking of the parents today, who have had enough of bad news.

I’m thinking of the parents whose hearts are still brand new, who haven’t learned how to filter all the terrible things that are in the world (the special brand of denial that’s necessary to the day-to-day work of being a parent).

I’m thinking of the parents who have lost sons and daughters and who can’t stand to read about anyone forced to join their tribe.

I’m thinking of the parents whose hurts are echoed in the hurts they read about and see. The ones who live those hurts daily and who need space to heal from them.

There are times when we have the strength to march in unity and there are times when we need to step away and care for ourselves and our loved ones. Sometimes the news, it’s just too close to home. We cannot separate ourselves (or our children) from it. We need space to gather our resources, to breathe, to make a decision about how we will act.

It’s OK to turn off the news, to turn off Facebook.

Taking a break is not the same thing as running away.

Knowing your limits is not selfish.

My thoughts are with those of you who are hurting today.

#blacklivesmatter