There is so much that can divide us. I'm not sure if there's a single person I am in universal agreement or disagreement with politically. It's easy to find common ground with some people and challenging with others, but it is possible for me to find some commonality with every person.
Parenting can highlight what divides us, because when we hang out with different families, we bump up against other people's parenting. It's hard to watch people handling their kids differently than we would, isn't it? It's also hard to feel judged or scrutinized for our kids' behavior or our own parenting.
Maybe we can bring the curious, open aspect of mindfulness into our relationships this holiday season. What if we look at each other's relationships with an interested and accepting eye? Watch for the good moments between parent and child? Trust our family to handle the experience of potty talk, a particular religious lens, or uncomfortable political views that can come up when we're with a 'different' family or part of our extended family?
Could we approach our playground visits, school parking lot conversations, and Facebook experience with this willingness to accept and be curious this season?
This is my intention, to be intentionally curious about 'others.' To find the connection, even it's a subtle one, between myself and each of the 'others' in my world. While willing to speak up for my true values (stopping physical, emotional, and verbal assaults, for example), I want to promote tolerance personally, by discovering and letting go of my own sense of separation whenever I can.
‘When we look deeply at a flower, we can see that it is made entirely of non-flower elements, like sunshine, rain, soil, compost, air, and time. If we continue to look deeply, we will also notice that the flower is on her way to becoming compost. If we don’t notice this, we will be shocked when the flower begins to decompose. When we look deeply at the compost, we see that it is also on its way to becoming flowers, and we see that flowers and compost ‘inter-are.’ They need each other. A good organic gardener does not discriminate against compost, because he knows how to transform it into marigolds, roses, and many other kinds of flowers.
When we look deeply into ourselves,we see both flowers and garbage. Each of us has anger, hatred, depression, racial discrimination, and many other kinds of garbage in us, but there is no need for us to be afraid. In the way that a gardener knows how to transform compost into flowers, we can learn the art of transforming anger, depression, and racial discrimination into love and understanding. This is the work of meditation.’
-Thich Nhat Hanh, from Touching Peace
Adolescents need both a solid connection with us (attachment) and space to separate from us and discover who they are. Although these appear to be contradictory needs they’re really connected. One of our cultural myths insists that we’re meant to be independent, but human development culminates with interdependence, not independence. We need healthy, safe, close relationships with people at every age.
During adolescence kids have a developmental need to shift from more dependence to a growing interdependence with us. Each adolescent moves through this in their own timing, and often with a ‘two steps forward and one step back’ kind of process rather than a simple linear one. What they really need from parents is a steady, accepting and loving presence that they can trust enough to push away from.
Kids become more peer focused sometime during adolescence. This does not mean that they don’t need us, but it may mean that they reject or criticize a lot about us--how we look/act/drive/talk/etc. They model on their peers more and more. These peer relationships are pretty conditional and kids have to adapt themselves to fit in. It’s only with securely attached relationships that they truly feel safe and free to be themselves. Teens bring the most difficult, dark aspects of themselves home to us because these parts can’t be expressed in the conditionally accepting world of peers or school. If we can send them the message during this time that they are absolutely accepted, even though they’re acting like brats some of the time, it goes a long way to helping them accept themselves.
Our parenting task at this stage is to see and affirm their true nature. When the things they do are not acceptable (which is bound to happen), we can differentiate between who they are and what they have done. We don't need to let their mistakes threaten our love or acceptance (even though they may trigger our old stuff and bring up a desire to send them away, walk away, tell them they better shape up, etc.).
Just as they become more impulsive and less cautious or eager to please, teens need to experience the right to make choices, make mistakes and be responsible for their mistakes. Our parenting is tricky, like threading a needle through our newly middle-aged eyes! Ideally we talk with them about the 'why' behind choices rather than emphasizing the 'should.' When they mess up, we trust that they are strong enough to experience the results of their mess up and fix it when possible (with support and guidance rather than a rescue). Sometimes we need to sit on our hands rather than fixing things that they can handle, sometimes we need to keep our mouths shut instead of lecturing.
We can remember this passage from Kahlil Gibran’s poem On Children:
"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.