After ten years, I’ve learned the most important thing I do as a parent at Acton Academy is not even about my children.
It’s about me.
This visualization may help me explain:
Imagine every day carrying a heavy sack of rocks on your back.
For years you have carried this load. Day in. Day out. The weight never diminishes. There is pain in carrying it but you don’t mention it. You just keep carrying the rocks.
Imagine that each rock is a burden your parents gave you. Not intentionally. What parent would want to burden their child with a sack of heavy rocks to carry for the rest of their lives?
Unknowingly, though, there is the rock of “not quite good enough.” There is the rock of “unpredictable, inconsistent anger.” There is the rock of “shame on you.” There is the rock of “if only you were like…” There is the rock of “divorce.” There is the rock of “I love you when you are good.” There is the rock of “alcoholism” and “workaholism.” There is the rock of “neglect” and “micromanaging.”
Visualize yourself taking each rock from that bag. One by one. Hold it. Turn it over and really look at it. Then see yourself dropping it on the ground. Or throwing it far off into a field.
Now straighten up. You can walk lighter. Exhale more deeply. By letting them go, you are now free of your parents’ hurts, needs, fears, projections and resentments. You are free.
Back to reality. Now we are the parents.
How do we keep our own hurts, insecurities and fears from burdening our children? Life will be hard enough for them. How do we parent in a way that frees our children so they can progress on their own journeys, find their callings and live meaningful lives without worrying about us?
This is part of our own Hero’s Journey as parents. We all have hurts, blind spots and character flaws. There’s no need to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. It’s what makes us real.
But there is a way we can keep our own “stuff” from burdening our children. As I like to say, “Parent, heal thyself.”
Very simply put, we all need to get to know ourselves very, very well.
For some this means meeting with a counselor. For others, listening is a great place to start. We must listen to ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings. This includes knowing our bodies well – knowing when our heart beats too fast, or we start to sweat or feel that stomach start to churn. We begin to understand when anger is rising up or anxiety is creeping in because we know ourselves so well. And in knowing, we become proactive rather than reactive in our parenting. We learn to pause and be still.
Take the example of anger.
What makes you angry? The next time you feel angry, pause. Search yourself and ask yourself why three times. Why does that make me angry? Why does that make me angry? Why does that make me angry?
Usually anger is covering up fear. As we think more deeply, we begin to understand our deepest fears and deal with them. This is significant because if we aren’t careful our anger can turn into resentment which festers into a desire for vengeance. And that’s one ugly monster for our children to witness especially when the anger is on their behalf and carried out in sly, subtle ways.
As we face another new session at Acton and a new year of life, we get to choose our mindsets and which path we’ll take. The young people at Acton are choosing what I call the “high and hard path” of learning and growing. It’s the Hero’s Journey and there are monsters tucked away in the dark valleys of growing up. But the children aren’t afraid. They will face their monsters. They’ll talk about the hard times together because we build in time during their daily schedule to reflect upon the battles they face and share with each other what works and what doesn’t to do better next time. They are brave and beautiful.
Let’s meet the young people at that high place. Let’s not be afraid to admit we, too, have monsters lurking. Not every parent is ready for the Hero’s Journey and I understand. It’s really hard.
For those of you who are in it with me, let’s do this. Let’s leave the bag of rocks behind and get on with the joyous privilege of being parents. We are so very lucky.