Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Tug of a Lotus Flower

Tweet This Post
“It’s just so scary,” a mother of a tween said to me. “I am trying to allow Annie more freedom, but it’s hard. Every time she rides her bike to our local quick mart, I’m petrified until she gets home.”

I knew exactly what she meant. I constantly remind myself the objective of my current job: to get my daughter from tween to adult in one piece—physically and emotionally. I also understand my daughter needs space as she develops self-resilience, self-confidence, and the ability to make connections on her own. She needs to be allowed to make mistakes. She needs to ride her bike alone.

Remember Lenore Skenazy who put her nine-year-old son on the subway train in New York City with only quarters and a map? Lenore’s genuinely worried that our safety concerns are limiting our children.

While theoretically I agree with her, I am also concerned about what might happen to my daughter if I am not hovering nearby. Let’s face it. There is no Leave It to Beaver life right now. The streets and Internet are not safe places for our children to roam free.

But our children grow up. There comes a time when parents must begin to allow and let go. My daughter and I have reached this place. It is time to begin saying “yes” more. She needs to test her wings. She needs to be able to make mistakes. She needs room.

While talking to Annie’s mom, I thought of Marianne Williamson’s story of elephants in A Return to Love. When Williamson traveled to Bangkok she witnessed how elephants are trained. “The trainers capture the elephant and tether one of its legs to a giant tree,” she wrote. The elephant puts up a mighty fight. In an attempt to be free, it will fight for days, sometimes weeks. Typically by the time a month has passed the elephant gives up—stops fighting.

At this point the trainers will tie the elephant with a rope. The elephant will fight some more, but not as hard. Eventually, just like before, the elephant will stop trying. By the time the training is complete, the elephant will remain tied to a tree or a stake tethered with only a lotus flower—the constant tug on the ankle indicates they are anything but free.

If we tether our children long enough, even if it’s out of a great love for them and a desire to keep them safe, they can lose the ability to branch out on their own. And isn’t that what life is all about? Exploring and learning for as long as we live? I think Lenora would be proud of me for making this analogy. We caregivers walk a thin line as we do everything in our power to keep our children safe while helping them be strong, powerful people who will prosper and soar as adults.

How do we do this? If you are like Annie’s mom and me, you take baby steps. You say yes as often as possible. You give your children choices, and dole out consequences when the boundaries are overstepped.

What did it feel like the first time you were allowed to ride your bike alone? Didn’t you feel free and powerful? Didn’t you feel all grown up? We need to set up opportunities for our children to feel “all grown up”, free and powerful so that when they do leave our nests, they will not be held down by fears, insecurities, an inability to test the waters or, for that matter, a lotus flower.

Allyn Evans
Email me!

Technorati Tags:
, , ,