This year, I am not in a classroom. I don’t have a new project or job or endeavor that guides me through the comforting practice of intentional goal setting, buoyed by a tight community of learners and thinkers. Instead, there are shifts in our family ecosystem ranging from college apartments and college applications, to new jobs, and new health issues. I find myself a bit unsettled by this amorphous change, despite knowing in the thinking part of my brain that change is a necessary and expected part of life. As humans, we are wired to adapt to change by virtue of our growth mindset and our reserve of resilience. It can be hard not to grip to what I’ve known and to see the positives in the change.
It’s with this awareness of my awareness of my unease, that I find some peace in the Augusts-as-Januarys of years past. As I moved my daughter into her first apartment, she scoffed at me, commenting, “you’re doing a lot for me…and I feel sort of bad…I need it but I don’t need you to do everything…” Ba-zinga. In that simple phrase, she’s captures the rumblings in my head and all my internal and external fussing about. I feel this deep internal need to nest and create space – now in her space – just like I have in classrooms for decades. My seventeen-year old returned home from skate camp exhausted but elated, and fueled with a desire to dig into the college application process, his artwork and apply to his top choice early. He quickly let me know he will seek my help organizing those details when he needs it. I silently nod as I look at the man-child who has wrestled with organizing details most of his life, but somehow, I know he is spot-on this time. Again, Ba-zinga.
It is the mother in me who feels the need to be “a good parent” as I rescue or fix or take care of both kids now. Am I clinging to the days when they needed me to do more of that? My friend Jessie Rhines wrote recently about her propensity to grasp as her five-year-old started Kindergarten. The yoga teachings around aparigraha bring me solace as I send my kids into adulthood, too. My desire to cling stems from the reality that work is nearly done, or at the very least, is undergoing a tectonic shift. There are moments when I want to don a preacher’s robe and shout from a pulpit, “Can I get an AMEN?” And then there are the moments when I look at my children standing above me and see them as toddlers splashing in the water table or rolling on the floor with a book or two or twelve.
As Jessica Lahey so deftly points out in the opening section of “The Gift of Failure,” this false sense of care taking actually undermines kids’ autonomy. Remember being nearly 20-something? Remember that relentless urge to be autonomous and free, even if you did love your parents, your hometown, your life? It’s a time of huge change and growth. We need to give them the space to do that, devoid of gripping but rich with guidance and space. It’s their turn to ask questions, take risks, make mistakes and sort out what happens next. They’ll need some reinforcements or reminders from us, but what they don’t need is for us to do the real work of growing up. In my efforts, conscious and unconscious, to cling to those younger days, I know I am undermining their autonomy when I re-load the dishwasher “correctly” or organize their stuff. They need to know how to run a household, manage an ever-increasing school load, constant distractions from devices, relationships and their place to do some good in the world.
I listened to the new head at my son’s school welcome parents this week and he recounted how he challenged teachers to think of all the good they – and students – do each day, even in the face of failure, change and adversity. He went on to explain that we all have bad days. The trick in pushing forward, he noted, is to accept those places to grow and to focus on the dozens of other things that go well each day. Another reminder to me of the significance and importance of letting our kids branch out on their own, try new things, mess up, and live with the results. For most of us, it’s easier to pick and what doesn’t go right, but what if we reinforced what went well, joyfully acknowledged the successes, and encouraged risk-taking? Combine that with not clinging to stuff and giving kids some autonomy, and it’s a winning combo.
It’s from the ancient lessons of yoga, the essential reminders in The Gift of Failure and the practical optimism of the new head of school I am reminded that in letting my kids find their own path, I’m empowering them to be better adults. And by not clinging to their – OUR – childhood, I’m giving both of us the space to grow, change and embark upon exciting, new endeavors. Setting into a new September, it’s time for me to put my stake goes in the ground and forge a new chapter from all the growth and change. It’s no longer my place to facilitate the day-to-day operations of my own kids nor my students. Things come to us at the right time for the right reason, whether it’s a seminal new parenting book, the honest and vulnerable reflections of a parent sending her boy off into the world, or the sage provocations by a school leader. The universe sends us change and it sends us messages, and when we do less busy work and more intent listening, we can see, hear and feel those lessons. By doing so, we’re better able to adapt to change as September heralds the start of a new year and new ventures.