A couple of years ago, my kids and I hiked a peak near our home in the Yukon (Canada). It was a bit of a stretch for me but I really wanted to do it. It was pretty steep and, as we ascended, it was impossible to see the top. At times we were in deep forest and, even when we emerged into clearings, the contours of the hills blocked any views of the peak. But onward and upward I plodded, my brow sweaty and my calves straining.
That pushing onwards, with a sense of the destination, is a good metaphor for my early years of parenting. I had a glimmer of an idea in my head of what it meant to be a “good” mother and I was determined to reach it. I imagined that “expert” parenting required homeschooling, cooking from scratch, making nature and art part of our daily life, and being seen by others as a model family.
But parenting is not a mountain climbing expedition, straight up the path with an arrival at the top. It’s a journey through a multitude of twists and turns, highs and lows. It is full of paradox.
Parenting is both harrowing and exquisite.
It is joyful and lonely.
It nourishes us and drains us.
It’s both tender and frustrating.
We are selfless and self-centered, nurturing and absent.
All of that is true.
Parenting young adults isn’t about finding the right way or reaching a destination. It’s about love. Love for our children and love for ourselves.
And love doesn’t fit into neat categories or levels. It is honest, illogical, raw, maddening, heart-breaking and pure.
It is imperfect. Like us. Like our teen and adult children.
And so parenting, this profound expression of love, must also be imperfect.
It must be messy as you and your kids grow and learn. Sometimes you are graceful as you move from one moment to the next; sometimes more like a juggler with wobbles, recoveries and broken plates. What else could parenting be – tidy and pristine? No, you are built for more mess and clamour.
Parenting must be unpredictable and challenging. It demands that you develop new perspectives and approaches, sometimes almost daily. But how else would you have it – a simple, foreseeable routine? A straight line from here to there? No, dear one, you are in a role of transformation. Being a parent is your learning ground, your crucible.
You think you know how much you can love and then parenting fills your heart ten times beyond that capacity. A moment later, it cracks your heart open, shrinks it into cold confusion, and then gradually warms and expands it even more. What else could it be like – a stagnant slumber? No, you are in the front row seat for shining a big love out into the world.
And so, as you feel yourself as a parent today, imperfect and beautiful, I invite you to consider: Is there room in your heart for both the pain and joy of parenting. Both the excitement and disappointment. Both the radiant glow and the damp chill. Both the nourishment and the depletion.
A Practice for Holding Duality
One of the ways to build your ability to hold such contrast is to work somatically. Our bodies hold our experience of how aliveness moves inside us. It holds the patterns of our actions, which are fueled by our beliefs. In this case, our bodies hold and perpetuate our perspectives on the duality of parenting. This short practice helps us expand our ability to be with it all.
Begin with some gentle breaths. Bring your awareness to your alive self from the neck down. Notice what you can feel: sensation, temperature, your contact with the chair or floor, clothing, tightness or flow. Do this until you feel physically present.
Centre your body in its length/height. Press your feet into the ground and hold your head high. Create space between your vertebra. Stand tall in your dignity, your fundamental right to be here, your full height and your full worth.
Centre your body in its width. Slowly feel the left side of your body, your face, neck, shoulder, arm, waist, legs and feet. Then feel the right side. Then feel outward for how you are connected to your community. Sense your boundaries, this distance at which you love yourself and the people who matter to you.
Center your body in its depth. Rock backward and forward, feeling the motions of charging ahead and withdrawing. Rock until you land in the middle where you can allow the world to meet you without chasing or retreating.
And now, as you stand in your centre, put you arms straight out to the sides with palms facing up. Lower your shoulders and relax your neck. In one hand is the tenderness of parenting; in the other is the frustration. Hold your arms out for at least 30 seconds, feeling the weight of both.
Then allow one side to become even heavier and lower so that it tilts your body. Stay with the imbalance for a few seconds. Then repeat on the other side, allowing the weight to pull you over. Re-establish your balance with both arms straight out, tenderness and frustration both present.
Now bring your hands slowly around in front of you and place them on your heart. Receive these feelings with three slow breaths. Feel your hands in contact with your skin and collarbone. Allow the feeling to land, mingle and merge in your heart.
Complete the practice with gratitude. Rub your hands until they’re warm. Point your palms downward and give thanks to the earth. Put your hands up toward the sky, stars and clouds in appreciation of what’s bigger than yourself.
Put your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly. Take three more gentle breaths. And when you’re ready, step into the rest of your day.
If you are inspired, capture your fresh awareness in your notebook to reinforce your learning of what it means to be ok with the duality of parenting.
Duality is part of parenting.
We receive a million gifts witnessing our children grow into adults. And we will give a million gifts through our humanness. Giving and receiving. Both.
And all of it is love.
With you on the journey,