What are my Roles?

As we consider again (and again, and again) the perpetual invitation to examine the ways in which we bring a sense of intention and purposefulness to being a parent, it is essential that we look at the parts we play in our children’s lives.

In my College Parent 101 presentation, I pose the following question to parents: “What roles do you hold with your daughter or son?”  Another way to view this might be: “What roles define your relationship?”  An additional way to consider this might be to ask, “How do the roles I have keep me attached to my daughter or son in particular ways?”  In my own experience as both parent and university faculty/administrator, I know that much of the struggle we experience, and/or our children experience with us, is around the ways we define our relationships.

If you would, take a moment to identify the Roles you hold with your new or rising college student.  Go ahead; grab a note pad and pen, and make a list.  What comes to mind?  Responses such as: teacher, mentor, coach, and friend come to mind quickly.  But, there are also a host of practical life-based roles we have assumed out of the necessity and demand of daily life, such as: taxi driver, scheduler, nurse, party planner, ATM machine, and the like.  We are often not fully aware of how we “live out” of these roles – sometimes multiple times a day – and how they define our relationships because we equate them with “being a parent.”

Now that I have identified a few more, return to your note pad and make a list of what you find to be true for yourself.  Whether you do it now, or later, please take a few minutes to do it for yourself and for your student.  These roles are often the very things that we hold on to without realizing it, which can ultimately lead to us staying stuck while needing to transition to a new kind of relationship – one with new roles; new ways of being in relationship.

It is vital for our success as parents, and for the success of our student’s self-competency and resiliency, that we be aware of the connections we have with each other and how either, or both of us may be holding on to them.  If we don’t acknowledge these; that is, recognize if and/or why they need to end or change, we will hold on to them longer than is necessary.  They then serve as stakes in the ground of our relationship, preventing us from moving forward to a mature and healthy new place.

The metaphor that I believe speaks well to this is: Our job as a parent is never over, but our job description is always changing.  In what ways may you be regularly looking – with intention – at your “job description”; releasing your hold on roles that you may need to let go of, or at least reconsider attaching to in a new way?  This is the good, hard work of relationship!

 

Prayer for the Journey

I often close my live College Parent 101 presentations with a few excerpts from a prayer written by Father Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador. He was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.

To me, the prayer is a beautiful tribute at the heart of what it means to set a daughter or son off on a new journey, particularly one as significant and full of hope, excitement, concern, and even fear, as the college journey.  I’m hopeful that you find encouragement and support in his gracious words.

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

 

If you would like to see the prayer in its entirety, you need only Google: Prayer Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Letting Go & Holding On

I have been presenting my College Parent 101 session a lot in the last few weeks as this is the season for New Student & Parent Orientation sessions at universities across the country.  As I walked across campus the other day I thought, “Hmm, if we could harness the energy surrounding all the feelings both students and parents are experiencing right now, we could light up several small cities.”  There is a LOT of emotional energy being expressed about what lies ahead.

I watched the movie Toy Story 3 again recently, reminded that the premise of the story is that Andy, the “human” character in the series, is preparing to leave for college and is asked by his mother to pack what he needs and box-up or give away what he no longer wants.  It is a great depiction of the process every student is going through about now; what will I let go of and what will I hold on to – both literally and figuratively? (if you haven’t seen TS3, or haven’t seen it in a while, I think its well-worth watching with this transition in mind – I might even classify this as an “Assignment” on the College Parent 101 syllabus!)

So much of our identity gets wrapped up in what we have, who we know, and the places that hold memories.  So, when those change or we have to move on, what happens to our identity?  I sense that it is times like this; times when we are called on to evaluate what has meaning, that we bump into what we are attached to, and, at least at some level, must assess whether we will remain attached to the person, the thing, the idea, or agenda we believe helps maintain or perpetuate our identity.

I’m convinced that if we do not recognize our attachments, we will act/speak/think out of a potentially unhealthy sense of “holding on” to that attachment.  This is one of the very things that keep us living in the past, or not letting go of a particular way of seeing ourselves &/or others.  I often ask parents to consider what they feel when I say the words, “Letting Go…  What do you become aware of?  What do you feel?”  I believe it is essential that we recognize what and how we feel about the changes set in motion by this transition, and then appropriately grieve the change (loss) of how it was, and no longer will be, or we will continue to hold on, which holds us back.

Another way to approach this is to identify the ROLES (see p.s. below) we have had with our daughter/son: mentor, guide, nurse, teacher, taxi, ATM, alarm clock, and the list goes on...  Many of these will change dramatically; some will disappear entirely.  If we don’t identify these and also grieve the loss of them, we may continue to try to keep the role alive in one way or another; holding our daughter/son and ourselves back from healthy growth and understanding.

Just as Andy in Toy Story 3 has to make a decision about his cherished boyhood toys and the memories associated with them, so do each of us need to make a decision about how we recognize the inevitable (and necessary) changes that come as we transition our relationship to a new place of growth.

Peace, Dane

p.s. If you would like to explore this more deeply, begin to make a list of the Roles that you embody in relationship to your daughter/son.  List them, then begin to wonder about (pray about) the ways in which these roles are and will change as your child goes away to college.  The more aware you are of how you have lived out of these roles and how each leads you to act or respond toward your child, the more aware you can become of the work YOU need to do to let go of the attachments that are embedded in the roles.

 

Learning the Bicycle

In the spirit of looking from every angle as this idea of Letting Go, I offer another poem for us to consider; this one by Wyatt Prunty, called Learning the Bicycle.  I have, since the inception of CP101, been posing varying ideas for parents to consider regarding what Letting Go truly asks of us.

For veteran readers, we know that this idea of Letting Go is more about OUR work of letting go of OUR agendas for them – our “shoulds” – that are at the core of what hold our daughter & sons in a place of reliance on us and the ways that this inhibits their ability to become healthy and self-reliant.  These “shoulds” also hold us as parents back; perpetually connected to the roles we have occupied in our children’s early years, but must be relinquished so that we too might be free to be our best and fullest selves.

So I offer Prunty’s poem here as an image of what this process feels like; what the bicycle process can offer us as a teacher to do our best work as parents, and to offer our children into the teaching of their own lives.

Learning the Bicycle
by Wyatt Prunty

The older children pedal past
Stable as little gyros, spinning hard
To supper, bath, and bed, until at last
We also quit, silent and tired
Beside the darkening yard where trees
Now shadow up instead of down.
Their predictable lengths can only tease
Her as, head lowered, she walks her bike alone
Somewhere between her wanting to ride
And her certainty she will always fall.
Tomorrow, though I will run behind,
Arms out to catch her, she’ll tilt then balance wide
Of my reach, till distance makes her small,
Smaller, beyond the place I stop and know
That to teach her I had to follow
And when she learned I had to let her go.

Scared to Fail!

In the course of writing the entries for CP101, the most “re-posted” or shared piece I have ever done here was on the topic of failure: Learning to Fail.  I sense that underneath much of our fear for the choices and decisions our daughters and sons make is that the decision will lead to failure.

When it comes down to it, its not really the failure we’re afraid of, but what comes after that: the fear of the unknown, we commonly call it.  The irony of it is, we can’t be afraid of what we don’t know!  So here is a great article addressing the fears as much as the failure and how we get tripped up around both.

Enjoy!

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3027404/scared-of-failing-ask-yourself-these-6-fear-killing-questions?partner=newsletter

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Meaning changes as life unfolds…

I read the following posting recently by one of my favorite authors and poets, Parker Palmer.  Parker is a Quaker and so brings a unique and settled perspective to any conversation.  I’m grateful for his insights here and his challenge to see what is present with and for us as our lives unfold.  It’s certainly a relevant and viable topic for our on-going CP101 conversation.  I’ll be curious to hear from you about how this resonates in your own story.

by Parker J. Palmer,  weekly columnist On Being

I ran across this poem the other day, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s a poem about how we relate to the past — a question that’s relevant at any age, not least when you’re old enough to have more past than future!

Thanks, Robert Frost
by David Ray

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was
, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage
,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.

The past isn’t fixed and frozen in place. Instead, its meaning changes as life unfolds. I once lost a job. At the time, it felt as if I had come to the end of the road. But after a while, I was able to see how that loss helped guide me toward my true life-work. Losing that job was a blessing, not a curse.

I’ve made many mistakes and often failed to live up to my aspirations, but I don’t need to look back with regret. Instead, I can see all of my mess-ups as humus or compost for the growing I needed to do.

I love the fact that the word “humus” is related to “humility.” The good I do today may well have its roots in something not-so-good I did in the past. Knowing that takes me beyond both the sinkhole of regret and the hot-air balloon of pride.

Regret shuts life down. Humility opens it up. So Robert Frost was right. We can have hope for the past as well as the future!

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Hovering…

The term “helicopter parents” has become so familiar in our culture that it is now commonplace.  Visual imagery brings to mind the overly protective, hovering parent or parents who, with (they would certainly say) all the best intentions, go beyond historic norms of their parental role to make sure that their child has the optimum life experience.

This is a growing dynamic for university administrators and faculty as the hovering has, in recent years, become not only more evident, but more aggressive.  I read recently of the newest version of the phenomenon: “Apache helicopter parents,” describing the growing aggressiveness of many parents to make the reality THEY want come true.

I suspect many of you would be startled by some of the Continue reading “Hovering…”

Letting Go is Seeing Farther…

When I began this blog several years ago, I wondered if I might run out of ways to keep talking about this topic.  It seemed that I, or you the readers, would at some point tire of the conversation or say, “Enough, I get it already…”  Well, neither of those have materialized.  The practice of breathing in and breathing out each rhythmic cycle is itself a reminder that we’re each taking in what we need and letting go of what we don’t; mostly without giving it a lot of thought, though we’re perpetually in the act of “letting go” in order to stay alive.

I know that in similar ways, though more complex, we are asked to consider doing the same in relationships as well, and often no more direct is this on-going fulcrum that we call parenting.  As I write this I am processing the feelings of being in dialogue with my young adult daughter about an international work assignment she is pursuing.  Feelings of gratitude and pride for her work ethic which has paved the way for this assignment sit alongside feelings of sadness for the time away that will inhibit us having regular face-to-face interactions.

This felt so resonant in a recent offering on the Continue reading “Letting Go is Seeing Farther…”

A New Beginning

We find ourselves again at the beginning of yet another year; fresh with the memory of those things left unchecked only a handful of days ago.  There has been for generations, a practice of starting over; of pressing on, when the calendar adds another number to the growing stack of our days.

I have ceased making resolutions for some years now, as I realize that much of the energy around those that I did make was the weight of what I had left unfinished; in a sense I was dragging that weight into the new year hoping to make an old thing different. One of the significant aspects of letting go of “resolution-making” was the recognition that I, Continue reading “A New Beginning”

Seasonal shifts —

With the arrival of both cold weather and/or the passing of the holiday season’s activities, we all have some reaction to the changing seasons.  Whether it is dark when we wake or dark when we leave school or work, the shift in seasons brings any number of reactions.

For some, the shift can also be associated with other issues.  I’d like to thank Dr. Jesse Viner from the Yellowbrick Treatment Center for the chart you’ll find below explaining one of the more recent phenomena in the world of mental health issues. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be caused by Continue reading “Seasonal shifts —”