"....a child's deep longing to know that they are known, that the old were once young, once saw the world large, that for that one evening hour, a story bridge spans the wide river of decades and for a spell, we are one, children together." -- Ann Voskamp
I love Ann Voskamp -- blogger, author, farmer's wife, mother of many. And these words of hers, which I read today, really made me reflect on motherhood, on fatherhood, on what helps our children grow into good adults. Now these words are part of a larger article, in which she speaks of how much her children enjoy hearing the stories of her own childhood, and how it is so important for our children to understand how we relate to them, how we remember, how we understand because we have been in their shoes.
When we think of how to be good parents, many things come to mind. There is so much to be provided for -- physically, mentally, spiritually. And we want to be good examples to our children, we want to teach them right from wrong, we want to keep them out of trouble, we want them to have bright futures. All very good things; but, sometimes, it is hard to know how to do this. And there are points, as our children get older, when we might not like what we see. And when we don't like what we see, we might feel sad, angry, despairing. We might yell or preach or punish. And we hope we will be successful in our efforts to correct what we think needs correcting.
But, Ann Voskamp reminds me of something that, in my opinion, might be the most important thing in helping our children "turn out" well. And that is -- letting them know, as each and every year goes by, that we can see things through their eyes and feel things through their hearts because we have been there. We should let them know how we have been there. We should tell them our stories. And we can also "be there" with them in the present tense. We can share their experiences with them by allowing ourselves to "be" in our youthful minds and hearts. If we allow ourselves to be our "young selves," we can more authentically understand them. And if we truly understand them, maybe we can guide them in a way that doesn't make them feel quite so much like we are obstacles in the way of their freedom.
How do we do this? Here are a couple of my ideas -- for whatever they're worth.
TV shows. These can often be a bone of contention between parents and children, especially as the children start to get older and aren't really "children" anymore. There might be themes in popular TV shows that young adults like to watch which are problematic for some parents -- sexual situations, LGBT issues, violence, story lines that question our political system or traditional family values. I am speaking of such shows as "Glee," "Modern Family," "The O.C.," "Angel," "Bones," and "SouthLAnd." The characters and plot-lines in these shows do, at times, "push the envelope" a bit. So, what are we parents to do? My favorite approach is to watch the shows with my kids and -- while not totally losing my adult persona in a way which would be undignified -- to see them through young eyes, to see them as a young adult would see them. Now, I admit, this is not hard for me. I am not easily offended by "Hollywood" and I really do enjoy a lot of these shows. Actually, I enjoy "SouthLAnd" MUCH more than my kids do. But, the benefit I have found in this approach is that my kids will actually talk to me about what they like and dislike about these shows. If they see that I am not offended by the characters and stories, if they see that I am actually enjoying and appreciating them, they will share with me what they enjoy and appreciate, how they are touched by these works. This helps me understand them a little more; it helps me to be more empathetic. And if I feel a little guidance is called for, our discussion doesn't become a battle, because they know that they are free, when all is said and done, to have and express their own ideas. At least, this is my goal. Things aren't always so easy, but this is what I work toward. I want them to know that they are free to make their own choices; but, I hope that they are at least willing to entertain some of my opinions, knowing that I want their happiness. And it is just simply a lot of fun to enjoy watching a TV show with my kids, without having them worry about me judging it, or judging them for liking it. They see me just being a person, rather than an "authority figure" -- and this can go a long way in helping my relationship with them be a positive one.
Now, onto something a bit more difficult -- Young Love And Relationships. I am 49. I have seen and experienced a lot, in terms of love and relationships. I have seen many young (and not-so-young) people be hurt by being with the "wrong" person, by being in the "wrong" relationship, by reacting the "wrong" way in a romantic situation. I myself have been hurt by these things. So, when I see my young adult kids begin to wade into these waters, I sometimes have the overwhelming urge, because of my "great maturity" (ha-ha) to turn myself into a "life preserver." And they really do not appreciate this too much. And I don't blame them. So, again, I try to reside in my youthful heart. I try to see things through my youthful eyes. Because my youthful heart and my youthful eyes are not dead. They might be buried under a lot of debris, but they are not dead. And when I let my youthful self live and breathe again, I remember that I wanted my own parents to respect my need for independence in the area of romantic relationships. And I remember that I survived my bad experiences. I survived my heartbreaks. And it is in the experiencing and surviving that I earned whatever maturity and understanding I now possess. So, maybe I need to let my kids have their own experiences, while showing them that I trust that they, too, will survive -- and flourish, even. If I protect them too much, maybe I am just communicating a lack of trust in their judgment and resilience. Definitely not what they need. So, perhaps, remembering my own youth, I need to step back a little and just make sure that I am ready with a listening ear and a good supply of chocolate in the cupboard.
It is hard to be a young adult. It is hard to be the parent of a young adult -- to know when and how much to hold on, when and how much to let go. An art, definitely. When we see our kids hurting, we want to fix it. When we see them making mistakes, we want to stop them. When they tell us their "wrong" opinions, we want to make corrections. So, as I reflect on this, as I reflect on my own reactions to my own kids, the more I am drawn to remembering my own young adult self, to letting that young adult self live again -- and allowing her to be with, listen to, and speak with those kids a little bit.