I am writing this mentally as I grasp, before the blink of my eye and in the rear-view mirror, the fleeting reflection of the 6 beautiful and excited children that just unraveled themselves from their seatbelts and poured endlessly, effortlessly and fluidly, unchained and free, onto the pavement from the vehicle, just like a modern-day reenactment of a vintage Toyota Turcel commercial (that proudly states it carries the load).
Nestled seamlessly in the sweet-spot where strutting and floating perfectly merge, sprinkled with a light yet potent dusting of organic teen-wizadry, and with newfound and unforced confidence… fearless, focused and eager, twelve trendy teen sneaks trek towards the boarding platform of the city-bound train.
These children are teenagers.
These children are on the brink of adulthood.
These children are not children at all.
Last Summer, I was a ‘hard no’ to any chaperone-less train-taking. No. Period. Perhaps it was overprotective, perhaps it was fear-based denial, perhaps it was even relatively insightful and smart at the time. But times change, children grow, and we as parents, must mindfully, lovingly, cautiously and courageously adapt and evolve accordingly.
Fast forward to now… Amazing what a year can do.
Little by little, trust was gained and reinforced by honoring agreements and commitments made. I began to curate little expansion-oriented rules, say little somewhat uncomfortable yeses, saw most of them honored perfectly and respectfully so, with just the occasional hiccup along the way. I began to truly realize and begrudgingly yet lovingly accept, a child will grow, time will propel itself, and all unassuming victims in its path, relentlessly onward and we cannot control that force of nature and unfairly inhibit growth by denying exploration and eliminating experience. There is no off button. We must carry on. We must allow time to impart its knowledge onto our youth and we ourselves must be its eager students as we support our little blossoming buds completely, wholeheartedly and consistently along their way. Ignorance is bliss until it’s not. Wisdom is gained through experience, and it’s wonderful to be wise in the ways, wonders and workings of this big, beautiful world we live in.
Over this past year, I decided it was time to look more deeply into my need to protect and shield my kids from harm’s way. I asked dear friends with older kids and beautiful souls for insight, advice and parenting tips. I was told that it’s a never-ending process, that it’s part stress and part bliss, and all love, and that love is the most important part, it paves the path for relationships based in unshakable compassion, constant communication and mutual respect.
This advice stimulated some of my own childhood memories. As a child, I was always taught to be brave, solution-oriented and adventurous. I was taught to explore. I was taught to climb a tree. I was taught to pick myself up and dust myself off when I fell down, I was taught that ‘if I can see it, I can be it’, I was taught to ‘dream, believe, achieve’, I was taught that the sky was the limit. That doesn’t mean I didn’t take things way too far on occasion. As a kid growing up, I certainly did my fair share of very imperfect things, but I always learned from my mistakes and had very good, growth-oriented, course-correcting conversations with my parents. Lessons learned. Wisdom gained. Consequences endured. Course-corrections applied. Character growth achieved. Priceless.
We absolutely cannot solely live in fear, or we will miss out on our best lives, and we cannot impart our own fears onto our children as they grow up and begin to shape their own lives.
It is no secret that fear produces stress, anxiety, and isolation, all of which can be quite toxic, inhibiting and even debilitating.
I am certainly not at all encouraging reckless abandon of healthy structure and safe, age-appropriate limitations, but living deeply entrenched in fear is no way to live, and certainly doesn’t lay the groundwork for thriving by any stretch of the imagination, and we as parents need to be good leaders by proactively demonstrating a well-balanced approach to fear, stress, worry and anxiety in our own lives. Let’s have open conversations, mindfully share our own vulnerabilities, challenges, obstacles and methods for overcoming them. Let’s openly share our own past mistakes made and valuable lessons learned. Let’s offer healthy boundaries, fluid roadmaps, compromises, guidance, agreements and trust as we honor their growth and lovingly encourage them in their own self-navigation for a successful, adventurous, well-rounded and prosperous future.
As the image of the venerable vortex of six in my rear-view mirror turned to speckled, blurry dots much like a fading picture on a low-resolution, old-school television set whose antenna begged and pleaded for an adjustment, I heard ‘Cecilia’s words of wisdom’. Crisp, clear and as compassionate as ever, as if she were sitting in the passenger seat next to me, holding my hand and my heart, repeating the brilliant insight she once gifted me in a very loving, seasoned and motherly way while she, my children’s Fairy Godmother-like Pre-School teacher, politely pried their daily drop-off grip as they sobbed clinging to the lifeline of my leg in a momentary bout of fear-based defiance, single handedly wiped the tears of both of my little ones and of my own, ‘Carmen, you have given them such deep roots; now it’s time to give them wings’, lovingly preached as she respectfully took the hands of my babies and directed me with her mindful, omniscient laser gaze towards the door, beckoning my calm and expedited exit.
That moment changed my life forever, both as a person and as a mom. Cecilia’s words were immediately branded on my brain and burned into my consciousness and I never suspected they would get me through so many of those times that I just wanted to default to the safety of the situation… ‘no, don’t climb that rock overhang where you can see the skyline so perfectly, no, don’t talk to strangers (I’m still hanging out in limbo on this one….. somewhere between ‘stranger danger’ and ‘strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet’), ‘no, don’t go out in the backyard by yourself to stargaze in the pitch black, and ‘no, don’t’ take the train to the city’.
We must love our kids fiercely, gently, unconditionally and with adventurous curiosity rather than strict and inflexible expectation, especially as the transitions arise and dynamics shift. Exposure to new experiences will enhance their knowledge, skillset, curiosity, creativity, character and confidence. Keeping them sheltered and in a way too comfortable space will often stunt necessary growth. Ignorance is bliss until it’s not. Calculated risks (within healthy reason) for great reward should be encouraged and celebrated, not sabotaged by a limiting parent-induced safe zone default.
Evaluating and implementing a carefully curated and ever-evolving Risk:Reward process and structure is empowering, enlivening and much more integrated, growth mindset-oriented and experiential than staying safe and stuck and way under-stimulated. We were all born to explore, to integrate, to connect, and our growing youth need us to be their guide on the side, a part of the crowd cheering them on as they mature, not on center stage next to them gripping their hand and bowing them out before they have finished their show.
And yes, as they grow, mistakes and repairs will need be made, and we will also feel the growing pains, perhaps we’ll even adorn a different type of lifelong stretch marks that far surpass the ones they gave to their mothers while in-utero, but we must also acknowledge, accept, and celebrate the glory of their growth, at every age and every stage. Nitya Prakash’s words are ringing in my ears: ‘(Parents) hold their children’s hands for just a short while, but their hearts forever’, and while we want to hold their hands forever, they need to dance their own beautiful dance. It’s a delicate, intricate, and impassioned dance, much like the tango, and the steps learned, understood, and practiced time and time again will eventually become an art all its own and can be just as exhilarating, pleasantly exhausting, fully rewarding, captivating and beautiful as the tango itself. And as we lead and guide and also follow, may our hands, our heads and our hearts, and without fail, help to provide the constant light, the loving guidance and the infinite, unwavering support they need, want and deserve and at whatever proximity is most appropriate for their optimal growth at any given moment. Our children, then, whose youth we may hardly recognize at this moment, will move through teenhood with as much grace, goodness and groundedness on their way to blossoming into the wonderful, unique and empowered young adults they are now becoming.
Our refrigerator is currently decorated with three wonderful and pertinent quotes that remind me that change is a constant, that awareness and mindfulness are key as we navigate beyond our comfort zone, and that our youth need us to grow and transform lovingly, patiently and proactively with them.
‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom’ -Anais Niin
‘Like Wildflowers, you must allow yourself to grow in all the place people thought you never would’. – E.V.
‘And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.’ -Erica Jong