You’ve got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can’t hide
For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide
Because you’re mine, I walk the line
~ Johnny Cash, I Walk the Line
I am sitting on the Anacortes Ferry on my way to Sooke, B.C. to visit my mother. It has docked at Friday Harbor. The harbor is full of pleasure boats. There is a stationary seaplane gently floating up and down on the water. It is a tranquil view. I’m cozy in my black Patagonia jacket, normal summer wear for me in the Pacific Northwest. The book I am enjoying rests comfortably 0n my lap, as I overlook this serene view. The calm of the present moment is in stark contrast to my memories of wild teenage antics here while traveling with a friend and her family on their boat. At the time, this location was associated with wild, raucous fun and enjoyment! Now, I don’t see it that way. If one of my daughters was doing what I was doing then, my hair would be standing on end.
Why is it so hard to bridge that gap between being a parent and being a teen? Why do I get so fearful as a parent, when I was just as reckless, impulsive, and unlikely to think things through when I was an adolescent? What makes me think I was different than my daughters? How does the illusion that I had it so together persist when clearly I didn’t? Perhaps I didn’t get caught as often, but that is really just luck and the product of a different era with less digital monitoring.
My mother certainly knew less about what I was up to than I do with my girls. On one level it is nice to be in the loop, but on another level knowing more about what is going on makes it harder for me to not get fearful and reactive. I sometimes feel compelled to parent from my fear. My desire to clamp down, provide structure, protect, keep in line and control can look very rational and reasonable. However, if I were, to be honest with myself and check the real motivation behind those behaviors, most of the time they come from some level or reactivity — either fear or anger.
Elizabeth Stone’s quote highlights the vulnerability of parenting: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” My reactivity is a reaction to my difficulty surrendering to this. The illusion of being in control sometimes feels safer even though it is pure delusion and denial.
However, if I walk my talk, I have to acknowledge my daughters have their own wisdom within guiding them. My role is to point them toward that and not to my authority. This does not mean they won’t make mistakes, rather it means they have the capacity to learn from their mistakes. The bumpiness of their ride is not about me and a sign of my deficient parenting, it is simply what their lives look like. Who am I to judge another person’s process, especially my daughters’?
Few people’s lives look that pretty under a magnifying glass, mine included. My own frailties and weaknesses are not what I want people’s attention drawn to. And as a teenager, I would have found this even more horrifying than I do now.
I am grateful to my girls for helping me to step back more and look at the bigger picture. I appreciate how parenting is about the long game and the cracked eggs and spilled milk along the way are part of the minutiae of the short term. I can see the value of parenting along the lines of big data. What are the trends? When I step back, I am able to see the truth of who my daughters are. The details of the forgotten unwashed dishes, linen napkins used as make up wipes, cleaned kitchens that look a mess, strewn clothes, borrowed items without asking, lost phone cords, cell phone that just can’t seem to stay charged, crashed cars, middle of the night calls, and other more absurd and terrifying unmentionables blur from the distance of perspective.
The thin line we all walk between life and death is not in my hands. Daughters, I am not here to protect you. Rather, I am here to help you see the magnificence of who you are so you see your own strength, power, and resilience. I am here to let you shine, and protecting you out of my fear is like trying to hide your light under a bushel. It just shows my lack of trust in your innate ability to navigate this world through your own inner guidance system.
When I look to the truth of who you are, I recognize your innate self is guiding you — not me. I am not responsible for shaping you. You have your own unique inner expression that is within. Just like the intelligence behind life that was far better at navigating the unfolding of my labor with you than my own thinking process, that same intelligence is you and is expressing through you. Even though I am mystified by how it looks at times, I can’t always fathom the good that arises from the chaos, my confusion and dismay are my own limitation and not a reflection on you.
In fact, the order, routine, and perceived responsibility in my life is perhaps an indicator of my lack of connection with the formless presence within me. Perhaps if I was more fully connected to the freshness of thought as you are, I would make more mistakes, try out more crazy ideas, and enjoy the failing process. Possibly, my so-called maturity is more of a representation of the conditioned living that I am used to and accustomed to perpetuating, than me really being present and living in the moment. What would happen if I threw caution to the wind more often and lived in the unknown waiting to see what emerged? How freeing to live in that level of openness and willingness to experiment.
What if my adult responsibility is a disguise for thinking that I need to get it right, look good, have the answers, be together, and feel comfortable? Perhaps real aliveness is a whole lot messier and more uncomfortable than I have been letting myself live?
Thank you for presenting your messy selves to the world and stretching your wings in the proud exclamation of your way of being that is yours and therefore what is right for you. I have a lot to learn from your magnificence and beauty. Not the outer kind, although of course, I see that, the inner kind of fire and mettle that has you not be dominated or cow-towed by my neurotic parenting. Your inner light will guide you. Just as it does all of us. And you don’t have to make me proud. That is not your job. Live your life in your integrity. I will agree or not. That is not what matters. My intention is to come to you from a love that is independent of my preferences of what your life looks like. And when I fail at this, know it is my insecurity. Hopefully, you will grow to have more and more room for my humanness and frailties.
Having teenagers underscores the vulnerability of having those you love walk freely in the world. It forces me to find a new reference point for well-being and peace that is not dependent on them, and how I perceive they are doing. This is a good thing. One that is helping me to mature and see even more clearly where my well-being truly resides. I am grateful for their independence and strength. It helps me to grow beyond my reactivity so I dig deeper within myself to connect to the love of my true nature that is independent of all conditions and circumstances. That is the blessing of the feedback of reactivity. It points the way to the possibility of new insights and fresh thoughts that give us more inner freedom and connection with the truth of who we are.