The Effort to Listen

In the next few weeks, our students are coming home. They will be, as predicted, different people than the ones who left last fall.  They will be filled with new ideas about the world, about themselves, and likely about you: Mom &/or Dad.  Those new ideas can be both refreshing, exciting to engage in, and can also be a bit scary.  “Who is this person sitting in front of me?  She looks like my daughter, but I don’t recognize her anymore?

One of the many things s/he is asking of us is to listen to who s/he is becoming.  Its hard to listen when we feel fear about how things change; especially when it is a relationship we care about deeply.

We all suffer, at times, from the effort to fix or give advice rather than to listen. Theologian Paul Tillich puts it this way, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

So often when we refuse to listen, we become obsessed with remaking the world in our own image, or the way WE want it to be, rather than being open in our spirit to what is real and asking us to listen to the truth before us.

In the words of a Native American Elder, “To truly listen is to risk being changed forever.”

  • As you sit with this idea, can you bring your awareness to your propensity to fix or give advice?
  • Can you allow your breathing to loosen your hold on your efforts do or say something?
  • What do you feel about listening so deeply and attentively that you risk being changed?  

Peace, Dane.

Releasing our grip

There is, in this transition process a need to recognize opportunities to release our grip on the lives (read: Agendas) of our children. This process is filled with so much; filled with so many of the hopes and dreams we may have had for them since infancy.  Some of our resistance to release around this “letting go” process may have to do with our fear of whether we’ve done the job we set out to do – to raise a competent person to make her way in the world.  That’s really OUR fear to attend to.  But it is important – NO, it’s vital – that we recognize that this is a necessary part of the process for each of us.

If I have a dream or hope for my child that is not yet (or may never be) realized, that is an important invitation for ME to ask if I need to release this, in order to for me to be the parent my child needs as his needs change.  My holding on is one of the key stumbling blocks to relationships moving forward emotionally, relationally and spiritually.

The poem below speaks to this in ways that only a parent would really understand.  I find the poet’s sensitivity to the nuances of “Naming the Baby” to be spot on to the very heart of this transition process.  I’m hopeful that her imagery here helps you “see” this in a new and deeper way.

Peace, Dane

When you are dreaming of the name
you are also dreaming of who they
might be. They are invented in darkness —
under cloak of skin — and, for the better
part of a year, are a swelling
or a set of symptoms. The name
books are like a box of chocolates
and when you open them you see
how many kinds there really are.
There are names of people you
have known and disliked and names
that make the wrong sounds and names
that suggest your child will be
like everyone else’s. There are names
that turn your child into a character
in a novel and names that recall
the time when your great grandmother
was young. Naming the baby is a way
of dreaming about a creature who is
almost but not quite. It is a way of
imagining the soul of a person you
are making but have not made.
The name is the first way you see
the baby: their title, the syllables
that conjure a shape from the lantern.

“Naming the Baby” by Faith Shearin from The Empty House. © Word Press, 2008

Continue reading “Releasing our grip”

The Underground Journey

It would appear by the evening forecast that with few exceptions, we’ve no choice, no matter our zip code, but to acknowledge that winter has arrived in force.  As I type this there are winter storm warnings across much of the country.

I’m an avid gardener.  This season is one in which both I and the visible garden rest.  The fall greens have succumbed to the latest cold snap.  The sweet potatoes are dug and stored in the basement.  The wilted peas, cucumber vines, and spent tomato plants are piled in the compost bin.   

The garlic bulbs planted in late October and the daffodil bulbs I plant every fall (beautifully referred to by author Christopher DeVinck as “the flames of spring”) are setting roots and building strength and nourishment for the coming spring, for flavor and beauty.  I know that though many trees and shrubs are barren, the perennial flowers shriveled by the last hard frost, there is a rooted strength below the surface that continues to thrive.

If you were to speak the words that come to mind when I ask, “What comes to mind when you think of winter?”  I would assume that words such as, dead, bare, dormant, sleeping, resting, grey, and lifeless may be spoken.  At one level that appears to be true, and yet there is also that which we cannot see; that which is growing and gathering strength for the time to come.

The Underground Journey is taking place.  There is so much in our lives that occurs below the surface.  There is much that is building for the future – however long these seasons may be – that we cannot yet either know or see.  It is a season of waiting no matter how we feel about it.  There is nothing left to do about a host of things that lay in the humus of our lives but to wait.  No question that it can be an anxious time, full of the fear of our inability to do more than we’ve done.

And so there lies before us in this season our choices.  There is the choice to move toward doing more, born from our anxiousness of wanting to make something happen, to push or pull, dig or transplant.  Sometimes this is necessary.  I have dug up plants that were in the wrong place – they need more sun or less sun.  They need more fertile soil, or be in a place in which I can give them more attention. 

Then there is the choice to rest in what is and what may or may not come to be.  In our immediate satisfaction world, this can be a difficult place.  It requires a sense of trust in powers beyond my ability and influence, certainly beyond my knowing.  It asks me to let go of my sense of where my control lies.  I’m reminded of this each fall as the tender plants literally let go of their own structure and collapse into the soil.  Some of these will return while others won’t.  I must wait.

So, as we move into this season of winter, this time in which much may be occurring below the surface of what we can see, might we sit in the waiting of expectation of what is to come for yourself, those you care deeply for, and those you’ve yet to find.  Might you loosen your grip to allow time and space for the necessary rest of the underground journey that brings a growing season.

Peace by yours!  Dane

 

Practicing…

I post this poem by poet, Linda Pastan, to offer a different vantage point as we continually look at the ways we know our own story and how that bumps into the stories of our children.  I find her imagery and attention to be helpful in my own journey in identifying those “flashes of brilliance” in the commonplace events of our days. Though this poem speaks to a ‘son’ I’m hopeful that you can translate as needed to a daughter.  May her metaphor help you find your own truth in your own story.

Peace, Dane

My son is practicing the piano.
He is a man now, not the boy
whose lessons I once sat through,
whose reluctant practicing
I demanded—part of the obligation
I felt to the growth
and composition of a child.

Upstairs my grandchildren are sleeping,
though they complained earlier of the music
which rises like smoke up through the floorboards,
coloring the fabric of their dreams.
On the porch my husband watches the garden fade
into summer twilight, flower by flower;
it must be a little like listening to the fading

diminuendo notes of Mozart.
But here where the dining room table
has been pushed aside to make room
for this second or third-hand upright,
my son is playing the kind of music
it took him all these years,
and sons of his own, to want to make.

“Practicing” by Linda Pastan, from The Last Uncle. © W. W. Norton, 2002

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Tradition, tradition, tradition…

The commercials are unavoidable – images of family celebrations nearly every time you change the channel.  Thanksgiving is upon us, as are the Winter holidays which follow; the season of expectations and hope.

One of the dynamics at play this time of year is that the approaching holiday season is the most tradition-based on the calendar.  Families often travel to be with each other attempting to create something akin to the quintessential turkey-laden feast Norman Rockwell made famous.  How might this relate to my college student, you ask?  In what ways have you celebrated during this season since your student was young.  Have you hosted out-of-town family?  Have you packed up the car and headed to Grandma’s house, or some centrally-located sibling?

Whether your tradition is to stay home or hit the road, it is important, if your student is traveling some distance to college, that you consider how, either hosting a house full, or piling in the car for additional travel might affect the family dynamic.

The person you dropped off in August to begin this college adventure is in no way the same one who will show up at your door in the next few weeks.   She has made myriad of decisions which have begun to help her discover a new sense of herself.  He has made choices that have bearing on the direction of his future without consulting you.  To assume that your student is the same is to, from my perspective, create a “set-up” for everyone.  Essentially it is not letting go of who she was to allow them to be who she is becoming.

Frankly, whether you’re aware of it or not, you have changed in your student’s absence too.  We each make incrementally small adjustments to the space in our days that our student no longer fills.  As much as we enjoy having them home, it is an adjustment all the way around.  It is weird that you will feel the awkward space around him.  It is weird too for her to feel a bit like a guest when she walks through the front door of the place she calls home.  The best way to acknowledge the feelings is to talk about it – get it out in the open.

So, before this new creature springs through the door loaded with dirty laundry, late-night stories, new knowledge and opinions, new hopes and dreams, please make every effort to talk in advance about both your and your student’s expectations for the long holidays.  Talk about travel plans to determine if what you have always done is feasible.  Ask if she has made plans of her own.  Ask him if he has his heart set on some aspect of your tradition that you may need to adjust.  Talk to her about the parts of your family traditions you may like to keep in place, but your recognition that it will now be different.  I promise you it will be energy well-spent.

As I have said before, the ultimate goal of this transition is to acknowledge the changes you experience by communicating your way through the process.  Remember the adage: “Your job as a parent is never over, but your job description is changing dramatically.” 

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When Success Leads to Failure…

Periodically I bump into articulate explorations of topics near and dear to the heart of this on-going conversation about how we attentively partner with our college-aged children.  There are more than enough articles in the public conversation detailing the negative ripple-effects of helicopter parenting (many of which are based in a finger-wagging shame that I don’t sense really adds value to the conversation).

Fortunately, there are also thoughtfully pieces with the quality of what I’ve begun calling a “healthy emotional archeology” – that is, writing that leads to a deep consideration of the personal and cultural dynamics of this thing we call parenting.

I find the Atlantic article below to be one of those.  It has a grounded criticism alongside what I find to be thoughtful and helpful questions that can bring us back to our own story as well as the larger cultural story and the ways we may have each, at least implicitly,  made some small contribution to it’s narrative.

I would invite you to consider the issue for yourself and your children, as well as the larger cultural ethos the author shines a bright light on.

As always, Peace on your journey…

Dane

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/when-success-leads-to-failure/400925/?utm_source=On+Being+Newsletter&utm_campaign=09b0d5e36a-20150822_rex_jung_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1c66543c2f-09b0d5e36a-69848605.

Remembering and Letting Go…

As we consider all the ways in which our lives present this question of Letting Go, we can find that we’re either open to it, or resistant to it.  There is no doubt that what Letting Go asks of us is difficult!  We have been investing in the care and nurture and success of our children since before they were born; AND, we are confronted with myriad examples of ways to let go of our attachments to them from their earlier years.  We let go of their hands when they learn to walk, we release our grip on the back of the seat when they learn to ride a bike, we wave goodbye as they walk into school for the first time; the list is nearly endless.

I remember when my own adult daughter left the country for six months on a work assignment.  I was faced again with this question: “How am I holding on in ways that could hold both of us from the truth and beauty of what lies ahead?

So as I came to the reading of the blog post today, I was struck, again, by the beautiful and excruciating truth of the on-going process.  I’m grateful for the vulnerability offered here by Christine Cleary as she remembers what was, while letting it go in order to be fully present to both the sadness and gladness of what now is.

I’m hopeful that Christine’s words help craft this conversation in new ways for each of you.

Peace for your journey, Dane

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/christine-cleary-the-sweet-tension-of-remembering-and-letting-go/7996

The Heart Stays Open ~

“God breaks the heart again and again until it stays open.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan

I am struck by this statement.  I knew it once only by assertion, but was then taught by life to know it deeply through experience.  We are, especially as parents, regularly “invited” to this vulnerable place – this place of offering our heart again and again.

I am grateful for the insight Laura Kelly Fanucci lays out before us here in the endless invitation to offer our open hearts…

Blessings on the Journey!  Dane

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/until-the-heart-stays-open/7522?utm_source=On+Being+Newsletter&utm_campaign=8601cff829-20150704_bela_fleck_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1c66543c2f-8601cff829-69848605#.VZkt20o8KrX.

Move-in Weekend

The New Year has Begun!

This past weekend, all across the country, emotions were piqued!  The culmination of so much planning, so much running around, so much hope and expectation came to fruition as new students moved in to residence halls.  Parents, students and volunteers carried box after box to this little space that will now serve as “home away from home.”  Even students who don’t live on campus sense the energy around getting emotionally and psychologically ready to begin the college experience. The excitement is palpable, as is the anxiety.

As you assess your own emotional state, be aware that students have their own uncertainties.  As you talk with your student about her new experience, be mindful that what you are feeling is not the same.  Be aware of ways in which you may be conveying your fear or loneliness in ways that may not be helpful to your student.

The college experience is one full of questions – and not just questions from professors. Many of these questions are connected to student’s exploration of self-identity. Over the next couple of weeks students are, in one form or fashion, asking questions such as:

  • Is this the right place for me?
  • Can I make a difference here?
  • Will people like me?
  • Who can I trust?
  • Who am I becoming?

I would encourage you to err on the side of curiosity rather than inquisition: asking open questions that promote dialogue, helping your student explore new layers of his self-identity.  It is time and energy well spent!

Dane.

Finding Courage for our Kids

I read this post from my friend and colleague Chip Dodd again not long ago and recognized that his comments about being truthful about who we are with our children and how we feel about their lives and our lives together never really changes.  I see how my feelings with my adult children is so similar to my feelings when they were young.  The circumstances or issues my have changed, but the deep feelings have not.

I’m hopeful that Chip’s perspective can help you find new courage to step further into the deep conversation…

Peace, Dane

http://chipdodd.com/blog/fear-of-children