Can I Parent Without Using Forklifts?
Each time I face my failings as a parent, I come to the same realization again and again, yet each time it gets a little more profound. I encounter the scope of my great intentions and the depth of my failings. It is humbling. My sons hold up a mirror in front of me. And the image presented looking back at me is often less than pretty!
Parenting is a constant practice in humility. It is a practice of awareness. This morning I walked with my oldest son. We discussed how he chooses to live his life compared to how he feels I think he should live his life. We ended our walk at the beach in the compartmentalized suburban neighborhood here in Southern California. Standing on the sidewalk next to a neighbor’s house was a low fence with a yellow soccer ball inside it on the lawn. I stood right next to it, and could clearly see the ball. My son was a few feet away, and to him it appeared like there was no ball. The fence obscured his view of it. He could absolutely not see what I saw. It made me think of it as an analogy of parenting:
We stand there and see this big bright yellow soccer ball right there, and our kids do not necessarily share our perspective. They see no such thing. Now who is right?
Increasingly I find that my ability to parent my sons – especially the two adult ones, ages 18 and 21 – depends on my ability to hold the tension between my truth and theirs. I used to always get preachy: “Just move a little and you will see the world from my vantage point. THERE IS A BALL!” I wanted to be right.
Yet unbeknownst to me, my son might have been enamored with watching a snail carefully maneuver on the other side of the wall. He had absolutely no interest in the yellow ball that was alpha and omega from his mom’s perspective. He might not have the slightest intention of moving. He was fine where he was, and enjoyed his perspective of the world just fine.
Previously I would get up on my soap box and insist he move. And by doing so, I would break his discovery on the other side of the wall. As fascinating as that yellow soccer ball was to me, it was the snail that intrigued him. So now he would have to hide his fascination for the snail, and pretend to like the soccer ball. He would feel guilty. He felt inadequate, because he couldn’t care less for this inanimate object that mattered to his mom. He had his living reality on the other side, and it was clear to him that I couldn’t even begin to care. Or at least so he assumed!
Conversely, I would feel that my son was just “weird” because he did not really appreciate what was to me an all important yellow orb in the grass. Both of us would talk past each other in our perceived expectations. Neither of us could understand why the other person just couldn’t see what we saw. I would preach until I was blue in the face, he would engage in a game of “hide and go seek – and good luck finding me mom!” His vantage point would be: “I hide my true fascination by appearing like I get what you are into, but in reality I don’t care, and so I will try to hide from you and get away.” And so he would not call. He would not message me back. He would be emotionally absent even if I managed to get a hold of him.
I would amp up the volume. I would bring in a virtual fork lift and lift him over to my perspective and then cage him with obligations so he would stay in place and have to look at that soccer ball. And inevitably he would eventually just find another snail next to the ball and spend all his time looking at that rather than dealing with that darn soccer ball that seemed rather silly and irrelevant to him. So as hard as I tried to push my agenda as a parent, it would almost always backfire. I spent all my energy and resources on forklifts and cages, and I was still unable to shift his perspective. I was exhausted. Neither one of us felt close or understood, and he ultimately got exactly what he wanted – and I would be faced with yet another parental defeat.
This morning, we talked about this kind of scenario from our past. And I told him that as much as I get this, I still see the darn soccer ball right there! And that it takes great humility and practice to encompass and embrace another person’s truth. Thusly, I may not always get it. I may not always be big enough to transcend what seems so very clear to me in order to understand that he does not share my perspective. I told him I would do my best and that when I fail, he can help me by explaining what it is he sees on the other side of the wall rather than just withdrawing from me. I might not understand, or appreciate, his vantage point fully (or even partially), but I will at least try.
I asked him to understand how as much as I aspire to hold his perspective and his truth, it is rarely easy to do so. Yet I aspire to. And I hope he will aspire to see my perspective too. It is not a question of being right or wrong. We both may end up at a certain juncture not sharing perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that the soccer ball isn’t there. And that it is as important to me as the snail is to him.
Ultimately it is about how we dialogue. How we respect the perspective of others. It is one thing to stubbornly hold on to one’s own vantage point, it is another thing altogether to respect that others don’t see what we see. That they really cannot see it even as it is so glaringly obvious to us! The best I can do it to hold his truth as well as my own, and hope he can too. This way, we both can respect and honor each other’s vantage points and consider them both equally important. And then just talk about what we see and why both perspectives ultimately hold kernels of Truth with capital T!
I want to practice what I preach, but increasingly I find that preaching is entirely inefficient! Practice however is the humble foundation of being. So I walk on. Hopeful and full of love for my three sons, who are my greatest teachers, and who manage to hold that mirror in front of me when I least expect it. I practice what I practice. And so it is!
“There are two sorts of truth: profound truths recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth.“ Niels Bohr