It’s been a while since I’ve turned to this space to spill out some words. I can find myself looking around the world and wondering if anything I have to say is worth it in comparison to the great pain that is being felt in the streets, in isolated hospital rooms and in abandoned businesses.
Can I really justify another post about the importance of loving our children just as they are and not as someone else’s idea of what they should be? And then I remember. That truly what I am hoping to do in the world is to remind parents that they can not tear down the systems of oppression in the world outside of their home if they are continuing to exercise a power over dynamic with their children. It’s shifting toward partnering with our children that creates the model of what they will look for and call for in the futures they are stepping into.
I remember years back coming across a bumper sticker that read “world peace begins at home be nicer to your kids” and instantly understanding the deep truth of the message. The reality that I can’t be a peace activist out in the world if I am a dictator at home. I had to start with myself first. A careful analysis of the places where I was already causing harm. Yelling at someone smaller than me, with less experience in the world who was simply experimenting with ways to get their needs met, was causing harm. Demanding a level of respect without handing back that same level of respect was causing harm. Ignoring requests for love and attention for reasons I had deemed to be of higher importance was causing harm. So I began the work of causing less harm right there in the space that I had the most control and influence, my home.
I had been raised on systems of oppression. Systems that wanted me seen but not heard. Systems that indoctrinated me into believe there was one right way to be in the world. Systems that had me believe my age and experience gave me power over those, younger with less experience. Systems that gave unearned privilege to those born into skin and bodies they had no choice over.
I’d like to say once I saw this I got to work right away at tearing it all down. But that would be lying. It has been an 18 years journey of questioning the entire world around me. It started with wanting to preserve the humans my children already were and to create a space for them to grow into that knowing. It has lead to continual, repeated deep reflection of the racist systems and structures that have shaped the spaces I walk in everyday.
When I began questioning how I was going to parent my children I had no idea I was opening the door to questioning everything else I had ever thought to be true. Yet, I can see it now. My children were given the freedom to question which they continue to liberally apply to every situation they encounter. I’ll never forget the first moment my eldest said to me “I think that’s a racist term mom,” and I learned another place where I had been causing harm. Being heard and valued in our family made him want a better space for us both. Calling me in for my ignorance was a necessary step in that process.
My friend Patti Digh reminded me years ago as I stepped into a more active roll in my community to start local, to understand what my neighbors and community needed and to influence change at that level. I am here today to say there is nothing more local than my own home. Influencing change starts in my home, by shifting the power dynamic away from power over to partnering with.
There are headlines everywhere confirming what we have known to be true for a long time black bodies are not safe. As a white woman it is my job to understand my own racism and commit to an anti-racist plan. It is not enough to simply say I am not a racist. It is not enough to share articles on line and speak my outrage. This is an all hands on deck commitment to erasing white supremacy and all the nooks it exists within myself, my family and my community.
As a parent it is also my job to get my kids involved. As a mother to two males it feels even more crucial. I know my boys are committed to equality, I have seen it in the ease with which they ask about pronouns, point out my own blindspots and question what I think it true. Still I need to keep checking in and digging deeper into the actual work of being truly anti-racist.
There is the work I need to continue doing daily for the rest of my life. There is the work of helping my children to also understand in age appropriate ways. Stories have always been my way into understanding and a beautiful way to begin conversation with my children. Here is a collection of stories and writers that can support the raising of anti-racist children.
This is just the tip of the iceberg friends. Do you have resources you are using in your family? Let me know and I will add them to this building list. Are there BIPOC that you are following that are speaking out about parenting? Let’s give them our dollars, our likes, our follows, our ears, our support but mostly our commitment to the work required to create a just world for ALL children.
As we wander towards re-opening this and that in our world, I like so many others wish for a one right way to do this. I want the answers. Mask no mask? Travel is it say is it not safe? I can turn on my computer and find more than one article that supports both sides of the question. It’s all a little overwhelming.
Back when the boys were younger we created a family mission statement. A place that we could return to time and time again to make important decisions from. It hangs on the wall in the kitchen and has stopped me more than once from launching into a decision that might harm those I had committed to live so intentionally alongside.
I’ve started to wonder if I can create a similar sort of place to move from when it comes to reentering the world with a pandemic still very much at play. I know I don’t want to make decisions based on individualism but instead want to consider the community around me. Before engaging in an activity, I can ask “could this put my community at risk,” and if the answer is yes, then it is time to either get comfortable with the discomfort of missing out or get creative in finding solutions that keep each of us safe. As a white woman this sitting with discomfort is unfamiliar so it’s going to take practice, commitment and patience.
There is going to need to be a level of humility as well. The rate at which information is changing means that what I do to make a difference today may not be the right thing to do tomorrow. I can get all caught up in my own shame spiral, stamp my feet and cling to outdated information. Or I can return to my original commitment to the health and safety of the community I live in. Similar to the family mission statement, I want to return here to ensure I am living from that same place of intentionality.
I realize that just like life before the Pandemic there will be individual choices. Each one of us will read, will learn and will decide what to do based on our personal experience. I hope I will be able to be patient with my judgment of others. Because maybe they are still living on last month’s information. The rush to judgment is my go to especially when I feel fearful or judged myself. I am hoping with the lessons of the past months and the rapid rate that things are changing at that I can invite in curiosity to lead toward compassion in hopes of connecting across divided lines for the common health of the community.
It’s never before been more true that I don’t know anymore than my sons about what the right move is, or when the right time to do it will be. As a good friend reminded me the other day, “we are writing the manual,” parents have not lived through a pandemic like this before. I hope as they continue coming to me as a sounding board that I can guide them toward their own internal compass by exposing mine with an honest commitment to untangle the broken systems that have brought the world around us to collapse under the weight of a tiny virus. In the best case scenario it will give them a roadmap to grow from, at the least, I’ll be proud of who they see in front of them.
Anyone who has ever read anything I’ve written about being a mom knows that we are a gaming family. If my boys were reading this they would say they are gamers and I kinda of pretend to be one. So it’s know surprise that when life got out of control challenging, I turned to the world of games to find some footing. It started by picking up Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter (which I think everyone could benefit from reading) and thinking about how I could bring a game into our day to day lives as a way to stay connected in these uncertain times.
It started with writing a few quests on a white board and an angling it so it was the first thing people saw when they stumbled out of bed. With in the first day I started to see the benefit would go beyond what I had imagined. My youngest son immediately began to find ways to hack through the game. Taking my words literally and turning them to his advantage so that he could get as many points with as little effort as possible. Which upped my game in writing the quests the next day. Which of course made the players up their game. Only four days in and I love how each day the game expands ands stretches based on the previous days questing adventure.
Our super powers include fighting viruses, alchemizing everyday materials, sniffing out bullsh%% and conquering games. Our creativity it stretching both in what we create and how we are creating. We are expanding our resilience. More than that though, we are having fun together as the unit that we are and in doing so reminding ourselves of all the ways that we can do hard things together.
He sits breathing heavily at the edge of the pool. 5 laps into his goal of 15. A goal he has chosen for himself. I long to call out “you could just start with 10.” Or maybe even that 5 is enough. I bite hard on my tongue, reminding myself that this is his goal, not mine. That I am here to witness and nothing more. I do ask are you okay? He gives me a look of determination that indicates, as I suspected, that I am not to speak right now. The 15 laps finish. He tells me how hard it was. While also how happy he is that he did it. I share about my tongue biting moments. He reminds me that he can do hard things. In fact he is looking to push just that part of him.
He sends me a text. “I has no money now.” It’s his first time away in the world managing his own funds. He has watched them. Made decisions on what to buy and when not say no thanks. I want to rush to the app and put more money in his bank account. Instead I ask “do you need more money?” He says “I don’t know.” We chat a bit more and he says “can I let you know tomorrow about the money?” Of course he can. I will sit quietly with my angst and trust he can handle this. When he comes to me to ask for money it’s because his friends will buy pizza and he wants to be able to contribute. I swell inside and get the funds to him. He is only asking for what he needs. He doesn’t require me to decide that for him. He in fact doesn’t want me making those decisions. He’s out here trying new things. Gathering skills that will sustain him beyond me and he wants room to own that outside of us.
My heart breaks and expands wider. I hear the request to stop rushing in for the rescue. So that they may both succeed or fail on their own merits. It’s bitter and sweet all in the same breath. And exactly, naturally where we ought to be in this season of their growing.
The first time we made an extra bubbles bubble bath was quite by accident. We had moved into a new home and the tub had JETS. This was new to us. We’d played with them at a hotel once but never with the freedom of our very own tub. One night the boys were enjoying a normal bubble bath when they called out to have the jets turned out. I turned the nob and much to their delight the bubbles around them began to grow bigger and bigger until they it was only their heads poking out above the bubble cloud.
I do remember thinking what a mess this could make and reaching my hand toward the the dial. As a mom of two young boys there always seemed to be more mess than there was time. But as I listened to the two of them laugh from deep in their bellies I knew this letting the bubbles grow was worth it. I could almost see them years later remembering back to those big bubble baths they used to have when they were both able to fit in a tub together (and honestly were willing to bath together.) The time passes quickly and already when I look back it’s never once the clean up part of the moment that I remember. It’s always the joy, the laughter with hope that they might one day remember to say yes to someone who’s looking to have a big adventure no matter what mess it might bring.
In a moment of frustration I said to my husband the other day “this parenting of teens business is all about do this for me, get this for me, help me here, now back the fuck off and leave me alone. ” Pardon the cussing but I was in a heated moment. When I can take a moment to breath and re-center myself I can pull back a few layers of what is going on.
I truly believe that this whole business of parenting is a long series of letting go. Whether it is letting go of expectations, or letting go of societal stories about what should be happening or the hardest for me the letting go of the child themselves. When they are little and needing so much of my day I show up to help them meet their needs. All hands on deck. Now that what they need is for me to pull my hands back and trust in their independence it’s challenging me. And when I am challenged my tendency is to fall back on to those patterns I learned growing up in my own childhood. So I turn first to blame. Clearly it is their fault, they are ungrateful, they are insert other words that toss about blame. When blame begins to feel bitter on my tongue I switch up the outdoor motion to focus on me because clearly I am the victim of something here. My feelings are hurt, I am not being heard, I am not being respected. And on goes the misplaced emotions.
All of these big emotions are happening. The responsibility for them though does not lie within my children. Just as when they were younger, the owner is me. This reminder they bring to me is that there is another layer of work that needs to be done so I can continue to show up and parent from a place of intention and not a place of reaction. Sigh. Though the work of taking responsibility for my own reaction can feel hard loosing the connection and trusted role I have in my boys lives would be devastating. So I do take the step back. I untangle all the feelings to trace them back to their roots so that I am able to let go of that which is holding me back from showing up with both joy and support in the lives of the human beings that are before me. When blame and judgement want to be the leaders of the party I am reacting from stories that are woven from the past and missing the chance to witness the actual moment in front of me.
It is true that I am faster at returning to my center these days. It is also true that I can get knocked of course without warning. Which is why I surround myself with that sort of friends who won’t take sides in an argument, who will ask gentle probing questions and will continue to hold the well being of my children and our relationship as highest priority. One tip that I am certain I will visit again was the sharing of the story that essentially pointed out my reaction might just be the feeling of boundaries being crossed. There is some deep food for thought with in that. Even deeper than my own boundaries, is to ask could the reactions I am witnessing from my children be because I am trying to cross their boundaries. And if that is the case might I bow down in gratitude to a journey which has allowed them to know the edges of their boundaries and defend them with a confidence I’m still myself building up.
So yes, this phase of letting go of the children launching toward adulthood may feel as though it will pull my heart straight out of my chest it holds the most magic if I can stay present. If I can be grounded in my intention, within all the circumstances, I up the odds that I will, for all the adult time, still have a seat, in the front row of these awesome human beings lives.
I find it hard not to get all wound up in the bounty of emotions that seem ever present at this time of year. I love where I am while wishing with every fiber in me that I was somewhere else. I adore the people who surround me and ache for those I can no longer wrap my arms around. I”m certain this will be the best year yet while scheming on ways to teleport back to that one in 2006, where it most definitely was the best of them all. I look forward to sleeping a few extra hours on the the big morning while secretly wishing an over exuberant younger brother will burst into my room jump on my bed at the butt crack of down and shout “wake up wake up it’s Christmas!” I celebrate that I will pile teenagers into the car and spend the day chasing waves while pining for a time when little boys put Santa hats on and wrapped and unwrapped their own toys for days in advance prepping for the big reveal. On yes, these shorter days beg for the kind of reflections that stir up the old to mingle with the new begging me to drop into the messiness of it all in order to capture this fleeting moment before it too becomes a mix of distant memories.
I can’t help but wonder sometimes about this world we are tossed into that makes us believe as parents all that we are is wrapped up in who our children become.
Setting up all sorts of adversarial barriers right from the get go. A crying baby in a public space subjects a new mother to dirty looks and shushes as though she has already failed the world by making it louder. When the only darn mechanism that child has for communicating is crying.
Then onward to toddlerhood where that same parent is given all sorts of side eye for a curious child climbing on this, asking about that and trying out their independence. Clearly this parent is failing as she has yet to drive all that creative curiosity on out of the child who is meant to fit quietly into adult spaces. When by design this child has nothing but exuberance and energy to fuel their unending desire to learn about this still rather new to them world through all five plus of their senses.
Then when launched into childhood the parent better have that child ahead of the game no one really know the rules or what winning entails. Reading early, polite behaving, sitting still for all the hours except those hours spent prepping to be an elite athlete. When by design children were built for wide open spaces of time to explore through play this big world that is built for such a short time on fairytales and imgingary friends. The parent already shamed into believing they have failed for not head starting their child into a future no one can even see yet.
And then there are the teenagers who by some false analogy have become the enemy of each and every adult in the world. Deserving of eye rolls and “you pour thing” with the mere mention of having one in the house. Parents brain washed into believing each of their children turns into demon on the doorstep of adulthood. Coerced to believe they best have a set of harsh rules, strict standards and FBI level servialliance lest they loose their child to the evils of experimentations that ensure a future of poor decisions and failure. When these precious human beings, at this ripe time are by design launching farther out into the world, experimenting with all sorts of this and that’s. They are meant to push back in order to find their own edges to stand firmly with in as a well adjusted adult.
All of this with a misplaced promise of the a prize at the end of a high functioning adult to wear as some badge of honor on a coat most people can’t even see. But at what cost I? Lost childhoods, angry words, misplaced expectations and forever gone opportunities for loving moments. I’ll take my chances of ending up with that misplaced, poor decision making failure for all the right now moments covered in messy mistakes, late night cuddles, sideways conversation and loved built memories. Because the truth is, not all children get to be adults.