BEing in the Contradictions of Parenthood
Life is full at this time of year. The days are long and bright in the northern hemisphere. There’s so much energy around summer vacation, graduations, weddings, moving and more.
This past week included two extremely different activities for me – one was the intensity of a day in the city, with all its sights, sounds and opportunities; the other was a day of peaceful retreat, chanting in community.
Comparing these two days is like the north and south pole, so far removed from each other and yet both nourishing in their own ways. I like that life holds such diversity.
And, of course, it’s Summer Solstice, an important time of reflection and ritual for me. I can feel the planet leaning fully in toward the sun, like a flower. I can feel it reaching its fullest angle, its farthest extent. I am awed to live on the earth.
Wherever you may be, I wish you bright solstice blessings.
My unusual week got me thinking about the polarities of parenting and how we can hold the contradictions we feel in ourselves, especially in how we interact with our kids in their teens or twenties.
What contradictions? Things like how we are giving them space to make their own mistakes and, at the same time, we are faithful border collies herding them away from dangers. Or the way we reject the changes in them and their new behaviors and, with the next breath, fully accept who they are and who they are becoming.
Holding these inconsistencies can be confusing, for sure, and pull us off our center. And sometimes it feels like there’s something about the way we are parenting that needs to be fixed or righted. An internal voice might be saying you should be more ‘this’ or better at ‘that’. If you’re hearing that voice, please nod at it and keep going forward.
It’s important that, while we are aspiring to be excellent parents, we also recognize that inconsistencies come with the job:
We will worry about their futures AND we will be full of faith in the life that they’re creating.
We will be air traffic controllers on alert for bad weather AND we will bask in their growth in the sun.
We are irritable and impatient AND we are approachable and trustworthy.
We are pushing them away with our yelling or silence AND we are holding them close, soothing their doubts and letting them rest in our love.
The human journey is full of paradox, especially for the learning, evolving parent. So, on this Solstice, I’m offering you two types of practices to support you on being with the very real contradictions of being a parent and releasing the part that is expecting and striving for perfect harmony and clarity. You might be drawn to one of these in particular, or you might do both.
You’ll need paper and pencil, and maybe some coloured pens, if you like.
Identify a topic or behaviour that feels like it’s either/or for you. It might be a choice that feels difficult because neither of the options feels quite right. It might be one of your values that often grates against another. Or two of your behaviors that feel in opposition to each other. Choose your focus for this exercise.
Draw and label the two extremities. It may look like two columns, two shapes, whatever represents the polarity to you.
The next step is describing what lies at each end. What are the obvious pros and cons? How do they benefit/ harm you? What do these options mean to you? Allow you pencil to write anything that arises, no filters, just raw ideas and impressions.
What would it feel like if you chose A and let go of B? What’s comfortable and uncomfortable about this prospect? What are you assuming would happen? Repeat this, choosing B and letting go of A. Continue until your investigation feels complete.
Next, reflect upon these questions:
· What has me believing that they are incompatible?
· In what ways am I attached to or even perpetuating the idea that it has to be one or the other?
· What is that on behalf of?
· How does this cause me discomfort or suffering?
And now, what might it mean to hold both A and B? Not so much finding a compromise; it’s more about letting yourself feel the pulls in both directions and allowing something new to emerge in the space between. Activate your curiosity and creativity. Venture farther and see what lies beyond the apparent polarity. Ask what else is possible and be wiling to be surprised.
What do you see? What ideas and impressions are forming now? What can you imagine in place of contradiction or impossible choices? Where is the “AND”? What shape, texture, temperature does it have?
Remember that it’s all true: We are connected to our big kids AND we are separate from them. We are human and we are divine. What does the “AND” mean to you? How does it feel in your heart?
How to Hold More than Contradiction in your Body
Choose one of your parenting contradictions to focus on for this exercise.
Get into a comfortable position and take a few gentle breaths to become present to the here and now. Allow gravity relax any tensions and soften you gaze.
When you feel centered and grounded, bring your attention to your particular contradiction. Deepen your breathing down into your chest and belly. Into your core.
Ask your body to show you that repelling force. Sense into your body for an energy of resistance or pushing against. Perhaps there is some rigidity, clenching or narrowing. Notice what it’s like for you.
There’s no need to avoid it nor fix it. Instead, allow yourself to feel pulled and investigate the nuances of the opposition. Are you stretched, ricocheted, swung, squeezed, bounced or dangled? Is it in your back, your belly, your lungs? Allow yourself to feel it, without backing away, without assuming. Acknowledge how it is.
And now ask your body to show you a move. An action or pose that transcends the polarity. Not so much a compromise but allowing something brand new to be created in the space between the two choices. Your body is your faithful teacher; let it show you another way of holding seeming opposites. A fresh way.
Move into that pose and hold it for a few moments. What muscles are engaged? Explore exactly where is there ease or discomfort. What happens if you breathe into it or adjust it slightly? How is this different from the holding the two incompatible forces?
What do you notice is possible from this new stance? What moves can you make now that weren’t available before? What can you see from here?
Now invite your body to move again in whatever way feels right. Observe the movement and how it feels to have space for others way in your body. And consider how these new options might this apply to the (apparent) contradictions you were holding.
Wishing you ease in knowing that both are true: We are connected to them AND we are separate from them.
With you on the journey,