Well, I am back in the great province of Alberta, to the house I have called home for nearly two decades, after sleeping on a sofa for coming up on three months. I arrived, bleary eyed and sleep deprived from a very intense health care boot camp to one very ecstatic doggo who communicated to me through maniacal tail wags that she was so incredibly relieved that I, Persephone, had merely been trapped in the Underworld by Hades for a stint and had not in fact rejected her as an unworthy pack member.
And then there was my little red-headed Riding Hood, throwing her empty arms around me in tears of happy relief, red faced from cleaning the house, not to conceal the wild sorority parties she had been throwing in my absence (think tea, knitting and Animal Crossing), but as an effort to spare me from, well, so many other things. She has spent three months care-giving for her sister, so that I could care give for my mother, and her entire little emotional being was focused on ensuring that I would be spared the extra hard challenging part of that care-giving upon returning home. And she did it with LOVE and kindness and the most genuine caring and compassion a soul could hold. So you know, how often do we get that? Happy Thanksgiving to me.
I feel like the more I take judgment and expectation out of the parenting equation, the more the children become their best selves, and I think there is an obvious but also secret reason for this. When you tell someone what they should be doing, when your eyes are on how they fall short and what they need to fix to meet your measure of their success, or the World’s measure of their success or society’s measure of your success at parenting, your entire focus is LACK. Imagine a constant state in which you are measured by what you could would and should be doing better!!!?? Gasp! Well it’s a tiring way to live and sadly, reflects the inner emotional state of so many of us from adolescence through adulthood.
It’s hard as parents, not to fear what we don’t understand. We don’t want our kids to be assholes and losers. We look at generations of screen timers the way older generations looked at hippies. The Devil just slipped out of Elvis’s pelvis, took a few backward spins around the Led Zeppelin album and landed in Tik Tok. How is anyone who grew up without a cell phone supposed to understand Children of the Device? We glorify the days of innocence. The rules change and we blame youth for not following the old rules. We are the stereotypes to be sure, but it’s deeper than that.
Our friends slip us the same poison that we are taught to administer as parents. They chime in like mini moms and dads with their ideas about protection. We shouldn’t rush our relationship. We shouldn’t put up with that BS. We shouldn’t do what we always do or what we have done before. We should know better. They want to answer the fear within themselves of what they have or have not done. However, they don’t FEEL the same love that we do, and they don’t dream the same dream, so they cannot know what we need to satisfy our hearts. If they are wise and they know how not to judge they can help us see for ourselves, to stay in our strength and our compassion and integrity. But so often instead they throw a blanket over their fear of our falling short. Which is really just a fear of their own falling short projected onto us.
My beautiful loving sister was married to a real doozy of a man, who promised to love her and carried on with other women. You know we can all look in hindsight and say he was self centered and she should have known, or tolerated less, or snapped him a zee. But who is to say that he didn’t really love her or feel the things she saw in his eyes, that made her happy and aglow? And yet he was unable or unwilling to honour her, or care for her, and instead stepped on her to get his acceptance from the outside world, to answer the need in himself for some kind of importance and worth. Maybe we could see one side of him but we couldn’t know the other and as awful as the whole thing was, it didn’t make his love any less true or her response to it weak or ignorant or shameful.
We can’t always know for someone else, and so we need to let them live it.
Love them through the tough rather than toughen them to love.
I spent a moment with a client this weekend who was sorting out some parenting strategy in a sticky wicket of a situation. He had made a decision to soften his focus on “consequences” in favour of just being a constant voice of love. And it’s not that one can’t exist with the other, but compassion always wins at my debating table. The thing is that taking a hard line doesn’t work when fear is leaking in and driving us. Control is an illusion, whether it’s over a child’s behaviour or the actions of some other player in our movie of life. I felt it viscerally, deep down in my heart muscle; my guy’s response to his little one. That willingness to throw everything else away, every idea, every mental rule and answer an innocent child’s need to be cared for and accepted, wholly, without reservation or limitation or concern for appearances. When one person decides that giving love is more important than fear the whole world shifts.
Now what would it take to give that to yourself? I asked him and I ask us all in this moment. That same willingness to see past the rules and the judgments and the expectations. To reach out a hand and be a constant. To quit negotiating love as reward and give it freely. Freely, not gratuitously, but freely?
The question is rhetorical. What would it take stands for THIS IS YOUR CHALLENGE. Imagine what you would be capable of, if you were able to give yourself what you needed but were never given historically. Imagine what you would be capable of if instead of a constant gap between you and the end game you were given a hand to pull you across.
Oh, I KNOW what it takes. I whip out my phone flash light and lead you along the path and the practice it takes to hit this mark and achieve this “how”. I have a bag full of tricks and a map of treasures to help. But today and in this moment I invite you to reach out for your own lost little hand.
I came rolling in last night, from lush B.C. where there is one yellow leaf ready to drop, to the barren hinterland of Calgary on 2.5 hours ish of sleep, stopping en route to take a client call or two and then sitting down post arrival to get some work done until my head was bobbing at the computer. I called it a night and curled up in my room. I set the alarm for my early work schedule this morning and when, at 7:45 the alarm went off I crept into the washroom, telling my bleary eyed wandering self that she could sleep another 15 minutes yet. What a kindness, another fifteen cozy minutes in an actual bed dreaming dreams of dreaming dreams with legs that were not hanging over the edge of the sunken sofa nor ears tuned in for disasters a few rooms over. Until I sat down on the toilet seat, in my state of sleepy wonderment to discover something well, unexpected and I am going to have to declare, UNPLEASANT.
Here is the backstory: Tess, my teenager, wanted to clean my washroom —let’s just take a moment to appreciate that this thoughtfulness and effortfulness was not born out of my tight operation of military parenting. It wasn’t born out of rules or negotiations or even an ask. I have been nurturing this kid through a very tough time recently (as many of you have shared the tough times have been dog piling) and patience was the only answer my heart could allow. And instead of an undisciplined monster I am now receiving the kind of effort that is driven by love and gratitude. Friends more of this for us. Anyhow, the washroom had been used in my absence and in her newfound vigilance she covered the entire toilet seat with two solid inches of lemon VIM. Do we all know what VIM is? It’s a cleaning product that is likened to the tongue of a cat for its abrasiveness. Also, kind of toxic. You know those pranks you hear about? Where someone slicks the toilet seat with tooth paste, hahahahaha on you. Well, out of the most tender loving concern, my child VIMMED the toilet seat within an inch of its life. When I arrived earlier than expected, she forgot, and in my state of half delirium I SAT ON IT, coating my upper thighs and buttocks in gluey gross cleaning fluid.
Stop laughing already.
Okay laugh if you must, but do it with compassion please.
There I was, the Homecoming Queen, morning after my glorious reception, attempting to read a bottle of cleaner for indications of corrosiveness, imagining ass rashes, and hosing myself down with a very large wet towel, all before most of you have thought about your morning coffee.
You can’t make this shit up. And you can’t be mad when you are literally PRANKED BY LOVE.
From my Thanksgiving table to yours this year:
I don’t want to measure you. Or compare you. Or demand one more thing from your tired self.
I want to sing your praises and grow your gifts.
I want to reach out a hand when I see you stumble.
I want to lift you up so you can stop tripping over falling short.
May your heart be filled to the brim and your toilet seat be covered in Vim!
— Love Erin
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