Friday, April 9, 2010

What to Expect When You're Expecting

When I was pregnant with my first child I read a book called "What to Expect When You're Expecting".  The book helped assuage my fears and also instilled a sense of confidence in me.  I felt secure, knowing that if I turned to the book with questions about my pregnancy I would find the answer.  The follow up book, "What to Expect The First Year" provided insights about my developing baby.  In fact I was able to find many books to help explain my child(rens) behaviors as they grew and developed.  Given my background in Early Childhood Education and Psychology and the plethora of reading materials available to me (not to mention the advice of my parents), I felt assured that I would be able to face anything that might come my way as I was raising my daughters.

That all changed when my daughters reached puberty and the teen years loomed ahead of us with uncharted waters and few books to support my questions and concerns.  I kept looking for a book called "What to Expect When What You're Expecting Isn't What You Expected".  There isn't one, in case you're wondering.  The teen years can be wonderful for some parents and not so wonderful for others.  I've learned that you can neither punish yourself nor pat yourself on the back for much of what occurs.  I have been shocked, surprised (in both good and not so good ways), proud, disappointed, scared, angry, joyful and often bewildered.  Nothing and I mean nothing could have prepared me for what was going to happen over the course of my daughter(s) teen years.  If I had known I'm not quite sure what I would or could have done to change things.

The experience of my children(s) adolescence has taught me many things but I am not an expert.  I know now the reason there is no book that can truly assist you in helping your child(ren) navigate the uncharted territory of the teen years.  It's a trip that everyone must experience as an individual.  
There is no book that will help you through the roller coaster of adolescence but the words of Kahlil Gibran have provided me comfort and an understanding of my role as a parent:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I now know that what I should have been expecting all along was to be humbled by what I didn't know, what I never could have expected and what I may never understand.  I know that I can only provide stability upon which my daughters can rely and return to when they need.  I know that I cannot make them bend to my will but only hope they will seek my guidance.  Now I know that I should expect the best but prepare for....anything.

Monday, January 4, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

...But if you try sometimes, well you just might find you get what you need."  Rolling Stones

I am reading the book "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert right now.  It's so enjoyable and interesting and she is so open and honest that you feel more like you are having a conversation with her than reading a book.  There are some great lines in the book and wonderful insights that I find myself reading them again and sharing them with others so that I can continue to enjoy these little epiphanies.  The most recent little gem was some advice she received from a woman who was nearly 100 years old. 

She told Elizabeth that the only two things that cause conflict between people throughout all of history are "How much do you love me?" and "Who's in charge?".   If you really think about it, this woman is right she is absolutely right.  Think about the last argument, disagreement, hurt feelings, anxiety, etc. that you felt about another person.  Ultimately, it will come down to "how much do they love you" or "which one of you is in charge".  This never-ending power struggle consumes us, literally. 

How many arguments, have at their root, the idea that if this person really loved you they would just (fill in the blank - do what you want them to do in the way you want, agree with you, do what you want without asking, stop bothering you, be more....) OR how many arguments are really about which one of you is in charge here.  Someone has to be in charge (although I'm sure there are many people who believe, as faulty as this idea is, that things can be equal) there is no such thing as fair or equal.  Someone has to do more of the work, someone has to direct what is going on, someone has to plan things so that it all happens.  It is such a fine line we walk when we are negotiating this particular part of human interaction. 
As human beings we are obsessed with these two ideas and we struggle, and fight with ourselves and eachother over these two principle questions. 

I realize that now that I am aware of this idea I will never be able to look at myself or my interactions with others the same.  I will be reminding myself that I can either continue to allow my ego to worry about how much I am loved by this person (or liked) and/or which one of us in charge OR I can focus my energies on letting go and on accepting that I will never really know the answer to those questions within my relationships.  Imagine the possibilities...I will just "be" in the relationship or "accept" the relationship as it is and stop worrying and wondering if those questions will be answered.

You can't always get what you want.  Frankly most of the time I don't really think we know what we want or what to do with it if we actually "got" it.  We underestimate how much work "getting what we want" really is and we can't accept that even if we do get what we want that we can actually keep it.  Maybe if we just allow things to happen and unfold the way that they are meant to, we will get what we need. 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Goodbye and Hello

The difference between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 is one second. Yet in our minds the difference between December 31, 2008 and January 1, 2009 is immeasurable. In that one second we can close the door on everything that has occured in the past 12 months. And we can open the door to the possibilities that lie in front of us for the next 12 months. We make resolutions...we resolve to change the things that we know we need or want to change. We can start fresh, renew ourselves again.

It's only one second but the minute amount of time we can say goodbye to our mistakes and hello to our possibilities. It make not be very realistic to believe that our whole lives can change because of this one second but it's the most wonderful second in our lives...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Joy of Not Knowing

There is much said about youth, particularly about being a teenager. I'm sure you can distinctly recall being told that you "didn't know anything" when you were between say 13 and 20. Which at the time is probably the most annoying thing anyone could say to you. Alas, it is also true. Really the true joy of youth is not knowing anything.

I long for those days when I thought I knew what I was doing, thought that my parents were just trying to control me and that their "advice" was based on their life and not on me. I mean I was going to do things my way! I have to pause now to laugh....

Now that I am older and a parent, I realize (to my chagrin) that my parents were mainly right about what they told me. I am a unique person and not everything they said applies to me or to the choices that I have made but what you don't know when you are young is that there are some rules in life that you don't have the option to follow. When you are young you truly believe that your life is your own, that you have control and that you can "make" things happen the way you want them to.

It is usually painful and sometimes humiliating when life decides to teach you a lesson. Like gravity and physics, there are laws and you cannot change them by design or will. Gravity is can't avoid it. But the sheer joy of thinking that you intoxicating.

When my brother was about 5 years old he decided to ride his bike down a large concrete slide in the park where we were playing. He was five and it seemed like a good idea to him. Needless to say, the laws of physics had another plan and in the end there were tears, blood and a lot of panicked adults. Also needless to say, my brother never rode his bike down a concrete slide again. That was one lesson he only needed to learn once!

Unfortunately the life lessons you learn as you stumble into adulthood are similar in experience to the bike/concrete slide story...there is usually tears, sometimes blood and a lot of panicked adults. As you get older the pain is greater, the consequences more severe and longer lasting.

But you do not know this and you are ignoring all the people who could possibly help. It's like falling overboard and then refusing to be rescued because you're sure you can swim to shore. You might be able to get there but what condition are you going to be in when you arrive? Life is all about survival and continual denial of the facts is risky business.

I do miss that feeling of possibility and hope for things I don't understand. It was blissful. Now I have to live with the pain of knowing. And being a person who tries to avoid pain as much as possible (I've had my fill for this lifetime), watching my daughters grow up and seeing what they don't know is almost as painful as going through it all over again in my own life.

I can't save them from themselves...I know this, but I hope that once in awhile they let me show them an easier way or accept that the advice I give is in an effort to save them from what I know is inevitable pain and suffering. I would go back to the age where I "thought" I knew everything in a second, but not if I had to relive the process of learning what it is to "know". Gravity is unavoidable, I have the bruises and scars to prove it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should

During the 1970's and 1980's there was a psychological movement that was so pervasive that it has created the uninhibited expressionism that we are exposed to on a daily basis. We were told how important it was for us to "express" how we felt about everything. Holding back our feelings was having negative effects on our health and our relationships. We were "suppressing" our feelings to such an extent that we could not be truly fulfilled in our lives.

Thirty years later...we see that self expression taken to the extremes and available to us 24/7 via technological advances. Anyone can say anything they want with relative anonymity in cyberspace. We can hide behind our screen name, email or blog and express our every thought and feeling. The availability to be anonymous and say what we want when we want has seeped out of the computer and into our daily lives. We have taken to expressing everything we think or feel without any thought for the repercussions. Rather than learning how to communicate in a productive and positive way, we have regressed into childish tantrums thrown out haplessly into the universe. The anonymity has lent itself to the inability to talk to someone face to face about an issue. More importantly it has given us the mistaken belief that we MUST express ourselves about whatever we think or feel.

There is a great danger in this trend that has manifested into two distinct problems. The first problem is that whatever you put out in to the universe comes back to you. The universe is a great cosmic boomerang. If you say it, think it, feel it, you have sent a message out into the world to make it true. It may not show up exactly as you thought or how you wished but it WILL show up. For instance, you will have friends who will tell you that they really want to have a relationship but they can't ever find the "right" guy/girl. They are saying that they want to meet someone, hence they will BUT if what they are really feeling is that they don't deserve a "right" guy/girl, or they don't feel good about who they are as a person, the response will be someone who isn't "right" for them.

The second problem is that saying everything you think or feel may make you feel better temporarily but it doesn't resolve the real issue. If you do not give yourself time to think about WHY you feel the way you do AND more importantly what part you play in the situation, expressing your feelings about it will be like constantly eating but still feeling hungry.

Acknowledging your feelings, thinking about why you feel the way you do and most importantly what you are doing or not doing that is helping to create this feeling, is an imperative part of your growth as a person. If you are not patient with your feelings you will never understand them.

Self-expression is a unique and wonderful part of being a human being. It is how we connect with one another and how we learn about ourselves and our world. But, just because you can express yourself at any given moment, doesn't mean you should. Next time, before you post that blog, or send that email or instant message, give yourself time to think about it and then decide whether you want to put it out into the universe.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Becoming You

Here is the myth: when you become an adult you somehow, "magically" know who you are. You are supposed to be a whole person, a completed individual at some intentionally hazy moment in time. This moment has been defined by our society and government as the 18th year of your existence. The reality is that at 18 you are a person transitioning into adulthood, the first step of which is leaving your parents house and going to college or work. Other steps hopefully follow, work, financial independence, possibly marriage and children. So at that point you should be a fully formed person and "adult", right? Yeah, right.

The first step to adulthood is independence but becoming you, knowing you, is far more complex and time consuming than transitioning into independence. Independence is an important part of understanding who you are but it is only a small part.

Have you ever purchased an inexpensive piece of furniture that requires assembly? You purchase the piece, bring it home, open the box and here is what you find: instructions (usually written by someone who has never tried to put the item together), and several pieces, including nuts, bolts and sometimes special "wrench's to insert said hardware. If you have never had this experience - the "put it together yourself" furniture - you must try it. If you want to really learn something about yourself - a "do it yourself" project will give you some great insight into your personality. But I digress...
My point is that YOU are the piece of "do it yourself" furniture. At 18 or 19 or even 20, you are just pieces or who you will become. Your job is to put it all together. Which does not happen in the manner, the speed or the method that you imagine it will happen. It's a slow process with a learning curve the size of the Jura Mountains (look it up).

As you begin this process you will put things together incorrectly and have to start over. You may be missing a piece or something may not fit exactly as you think it should. It will be frustrating and aggravating. There will be swearing, sweat and possibly tears and blood. Hopefully it won't require a trip to the emergency room but sometimes it does. You may put it all together and decide you don't like it and want something completely different. No matter won't be easy.

Putting YOU together is a process. You are in the process of creating YOU. Right now, you don't know what that is going to look like and you're not sure if all the pieces are going to fit right but you just have to dig in and get to work.

The path to adulthood is built upon experience and choice, learning what works for you and what doesn't and ultimately being unafraid to work at creating something out of a box full of pieces. You can't become YOU without learning to do it yourself.

Monday, August 27, 2007

You are an Investment

The transition from childhood to adulthood is not an easy one. That transition culminates in the "child" becoming a young adult, leaving home and going out into the world - to college or work usually. It also culminates in a relationship shift between the young adult and the parent - which is not easy for either party. It is difficult for young adults to understand how to handle their parents at this stage of their lives. They fear that if they involve them too much that the parent might try to intervene more than the young adult would like. They fear that if they involve them too little that the parents will become upset and angry. It's hard to figure out how to deal with this new relationship complexity.

Being a parent and having been a young adult, I can relate to the feelings of both parties. I've thought long and hard about what I could say to someone to help them understand how they can make this transition less painful for their parents and themselves. Below is my advice to young adults fresh from leaving home...

Think of your parents, not as the your parents but as your investors. Whatever support - financial, emotional, physical - they are going to offer to you in the future is an investment in YOUR future. Imagine that your new life is a business. You have talent and great ideas but you don't really have much money and you've never run a business before. However, you are smart enough to know that you can't make the business successful without the support of people who are already successful business people (your parents). So, you need them to invest in your business so that YOU can be successful as well. How do you do that?

First - you need a plan, a course of action for college or work.
Second - you need to be able to explain what you are going to do to make this plan work.
Third - you have to be willing to communicate with your investors on your progress, giving them insights to your successes, being honest with mistakes and what you have done to correct them and knowing when to ask for advice.
Note: The trick with asking for advice is to know ahead of time what specifically you need advice about. Make it a straightforward request - not "I just don't know what to do" but more "I am thinking about doing A but I am also considering B, what do you think?" Coming up with two choices instead of leaving it open to the person giving advice to figure out the choices for you is always the best way to get good advice. Save the "I just don't know what to do" for your friends, who are there to give you unconditional support, not great advice.

You're parents will love you unconditionally, but your investors will not invest unconditionally in you. Investment has conditions. Namely that you can prove that you are worth the investment.

As long as you want your parents to invest in you, you must be willing to commit to the three principles outlined above. If you are unwilling to do this, then plan on trying to get the job done on your own. You may not have to answer to anyone but it's going to take you twice as long, cost you twice as much and be twice as difficult.

You are an investment. The most important investment your parents have. So far they have invested 18 years in you. Now they are willing to invest even more into helping you become an adult. And adulthood is only achieved when you can fully support your business and in turn invest in someone else.