Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reframing Fear

This post is a part of the Summit Blog Tour, which leads up to the Soul*Full Summit hosted by Catherine Just. I’m thrilled to be a part of an event that empowers entrepreneurs, artists and creatives to take action toward their dreams while helping create more opportunities for people with Down syndrome. You can join the movement by signing up for the Summit HERE.

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The day before Ben and I left for Los Angeles for his big surgery I got together with some friends for a little blessing ritual. They held me physically and emotionally as we talked about what was coming. We sang, they gave me blessings, they hugged me, and sent me on my way.

All of the blessings were powerful and comforting. But there was one I called upon more than the others throughout our time in LA. I think I didn’t actually really believe it at first, but I kept it like a mantra, in the back of my head, and reflected on it whenever I needed a reminder.

“Please remember not to worry about Ben. There is nothing more focused and clear-minded than a patient with the mission to get well. The way is crystal clear, the path laid out. So, remember to allow him to heal himself and love him and offer support by continuing to love yourself...”

Susan’s message caused me to take a step back from Ben and do some observing. She was so, so right. My moments of stepping into his personal space with worry or fussing always caused him to push me right back out. He knew what he needed to get himself up and out of the hospital. He was very focused. And what he needed from me was to trust him, love him, and love myself.

Ben is doing so well these days, moving with ease, walking longer and farther, looking beautiful in his new tall, straight self. (We go back to LA for his 6-week follow up appointment on Monday and I’m sure he’ll get rave reviews.) I’m not worrying about his health these days. Now I have time to worry about everything else!

So I was a little surprised when Susan’s mantra came to me as I felt the fear rushing in around parenting my teens. I realized that what starts as fear becomes a tug-of-war between trust and control.  

F.E.A.R. Fear of everyone falling off the cliff if I don’t make sure they are all safe and sound. Fear of a car crash if they aren’t paying attention. Fear of lives or limbs lost because I haven’t done everything in my power to avert that disaster. Fear of all the things out of my control, heck, out of their control, that could happen.

If I frame it as “What we want for them,” it’s a bit more positive: We want them to be safe. We want them to thrive. We want them to be successful at whatever it is that they decide they want to do with themselves. We want them to be happy. We want them to find meaningful work. We want them to be able to be independent, live out in the world on their own and pay for the needs and luxuries that they choose to have. We want them to have confidence in their own abilities to move forward, to make life choices, to deal with the challenging situations, decisions and people that they will most definitely encounter. We want them to be good, responsible people, to have fulfilling lives.

I don’t need to conduct a poll to know that my fears are common ones. And my fears are just the contrasts of those wants: What if they aren’t successful? What if they never can leave home because they don’t make enough money to pay for a car, gas, apartment, food? What if they can’t find meaningful work, whether because they don’t make smart choices or because they can’t find their core? What if they don’t have self-confidence? What if they crumble or storm out every time life gets hard? What if they are unhappy and unfulfilled?

I can see what those fears are: my own personal anxieties talking loud and clear. When I look at my boys I see three good, strong, amazing people. Three smart, creative, and handsome guys. (I could go on...but I'll spare you ;) I know that how Mark and I have parented them has made an impact on them yesterday, today and tomorrow. I don’t know what their time frame is, but in moments of clarity I’m not afraid of them not finding their true north. Even if today they don’t know for sure what they want to do with themselves, can’t picture themselves as adults, or don’t behave like adults, that is just today while they are still becoming.

I also know: Shit happens. Look back at most of the posts in this blog. Of course I know that. You would think that I’ve learned that living in a place of fear does absolutely nothing to avert disaster. AND at the same time it doesn’t impact the future either. FEAR just makes you unhappy in the moment. It just takes away the joy and gratitude you could be feeling right now. It clouds your perception of your life so that all you see is this distant frightening Future...and Now is actually very dark. You can’t see it.

Parenting teens seems to bring this all rushing up to the surface. I think that parenting teens engages this fear in a bigger way than even parenting small, seemingly more fragile children. The teens are on the verge. The verge of blooming, launching themselves into the world. And as they start to spread their wings we feel our own insecurities aroused. Are they prepared? Are they smart enough? Are they going to handle it all well? Will they survive? Have we done enough?

It isn’t all about reflection, but it is about where our boundaries lie. Where I end and they begin…that line is so important in our relationship because when I can see it and hold it, I am honoring them as individuals.

The worst thing I do is step over the boundaries into their space and share my fears with them. It’s the worst thing because all it does is show them that I lack trust. They think it’s a lack of trust in them, and even I think it is for a while. But the longer I look at the fear, the more I realize that it’s actually my own lack of grounding in right now. I am someone who spends too much energy envisioning an apocalyptic future. A terrible, terrifying future.

Parenting teens well requires setting aside my own fears and worries and believing in “the patient” and that he will know what he needs, what he wants, and how to get it. Parenting teens well means sitting with the discomfort of today, including sitting with their discomfort when they don’t know what they want or how to get from point A (today) to point G (their future) and not doing anything about it. It is a tug-of-war between being content with not knowing and doing some planning, and being content with not knowing and not doing any planning!

The discomfort causes me to want to soothe it all away. And Soothing is doing so I start to work hard to come up with a plan, a healing path, an idea or list of ideas, a schedule. What I really need to do is be quiet and patient and see what comes. To trust in my kid to figure himself out.

So today I’m going to put my fears aside. I’m going to trust my sons to get themselves where they need to get. I’m going to keep on loving them, supporting them and loving myself. And, I'm going to focus on today and all the beauty each of my young men embodies. It’s a much sweeter place to be.


Susan said...

Letting go of fear about and for my children was the most liberating thing I have EVER done in my life. When you get to that place Susie, you will be blown away by how free and light your entire being will be.

Of course it took three combat deployments to teach me that lesson.

Barbara H said...

Wise words, great sentiments, fits right in with what I am teaching in meditation.

Beth P. said...

Love so speaks to the journey and the developmental tasks for me in parenting as by twins embark on their teens. I will be re-reading your reflections many more times. Thank you Susie.

Kira Elliott said...

This is by far the hardest part of being a parent. I needed to read your words today. Telling my son my fears is stepping into his space. It is telling him I don't trust him. When my son turned 18 and moved out and then his dad died I was not prepared to handle the onslaught of fear that wrapped itself tight around me. He is fine. He is learning it on his own. He calls me when he needs me. Thank you for the great post and reminder to keep my mouth shut and look at myself. Let me sit in my own discomfort and trust him to sit in his.