Archive for February, 2011

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Uneven Ground.

February 28, 2011

‘You.  Are.  GROUNDED.’  sputtered with the shock and sting of betrayal in the parent’s voice.

‘I hate you!’ spat with the unique venom of teenage outrage.

When we say ‘you are grounded’ what we mean is:  You scared me – I need to know you are safe.  You broke your word to me – I need to be able to trust you again.  You took advantage of me – you defied the boundary I set.

Yet when we say ‘you are grounded’ what they hear is: I am taking away your freedom.  I am more powerful than you are.  I can control you.

There is a breakdown in the message, a disconnect between how it is intended and how it is interpreted.  We want them to learn, all they feel is punished.  We want to rebuild the bond, not deepen the rift.  To rejoin, not sever.  So how can we call to them in a manner they will hear?  How do we find a way to return both parent and child to the core connection of the relationship?

There is a subtle language and yet profound actual difference between grounding them and helping them to become grounded.

It is a shift from tough love to love tough.  It is not the grounding of grinding, pulverizing into small particles we are after.  It is the grounding of burrowing, helping them replant themselves firmly in the solid surface of the Earth.  Not the clipping of wings to prevent flight, but the nourishing of roots to encourage new growth.  And to do that, we need to teach, to illuminate for them the pathways of healthy decision-making.

For they are floundering in these teen years, seeking to define self in a morass of questionable and contradictory influences.  While they want your comfort and guidance, they have forgotten how to ask for it.  Rush in, just as you did years ago, and embrace them as they wail.  Swaddle them tightly with love, understanding, clear boundaries and unambiguous expectations.

When working to help them reground, you are providing a pause, a time out.  Not the time out of sitting in a chair, in the corner, alone.  It is similar to the time out a basketball coach will call during an emotionally charged moment of the game in order to huddle with her players, get everyone to take a deep breath and return to the action from a different perspective.  It is an attempt to commandeer the physical and emotional states and redirect them in a more positive manner.  The coach isn’t setting the players apart, she is bringing them in, enveloping them in a group hug, and reminding them of her guidance, her wisdom.  It is a chance to break the cycle.  To reteach that which they have unlearned.

And, much like basketball, it is about the spin.  Whether you isolate them or embrace them, the boundaries are tightened, the limits contracted.  The range of their freedom is diminished.  The difference is in how you fill the void.  If we sequester them from their world, they blame their parent and spend no time in self-reflection.  If we instead stay with them, there is opportunity to reshape and repair the relationship.

And once they have become grounded?  Reset the expectations, release them to rejoin their peers. Oh, and be ready for the next round.  And keep me posted.

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R.O.U.S.

February 16, 2011

(fictitious) Dictionary entry:

Rodents Of Unusual Size |ˈrōdnts| |əv| |ˌənˈyoō zh oōəl| |sīz|  NOUN.

A gnawing mammal of the order: Rodentia.  Creature is physically distinguished by strong, constantly growing incisors.  Creature is behaviorally identified by unprovoked, surprise attacks in which they spring forth baring both claws and teeth mauling your jugular with uncanny accuracy.

ORIGIN modern, from romance + adventure ‘The Princess Bride’. You haven’t seen it?  Inconceivable!

(fictitious) Thesaurus entry:

Otherwise known as:  bully, tyrant, tormentor, thug, ruffian.

(actual) Illustrative Example:

Halloween 2009 Cole was sidelined by the stomach flu.  The beloved costume he had chosen months before was put into play all the following year for grand imaginative adventures.  Thus the assumption by me (and we all know where assumptions lead) of it being donned for All Hallows’ Eve 2010 went unchallenged until the last week of October.

Enter the R.O.U.S.

Out on the playground one chilly autumn afternoon Cole was dared by the bully to throw the bright, cheery red rubber foursquare ball at the back of an unsuspecting teacher.  Cole declined.  The horrible wrath of the fourth-grade tyrant was unleashed immediately, and the costume was thoroughly ridiculed.

Despite the fact that the bully lived in a completely different town, and thus there was no chance he would see the costume during trick or treating didn’t matter.  The teeth and claws of the R.O.U.S. had sunk so deeply, shed so much blood, created so much pain and anguish that the damage was permanent.  Cole refused to wear the costume.  I admit that for a moment I contemplated the ultimatum of ‘you go in that costume or you don’t go at all’ in an attempt to annihilate the power of the R.O.U.S.  But I realized the irony that in so doing, all I would actually prove was that I could be an even bigger bully.

With the witching hour fast approaching I found myself driving to the big box store to plunder the bedraggled aisles of lonely leftover costumes. Despite the dearth of options, Cole found a new costume with which he was genuinely thrilled.

And now for the heartbreaking moment.

On the ride home Cole, the tear-streaked cheeks finally showing a grin, asked to keep the packaging so he could take it to school to show the R.O.U.S. that he had, indeed, not worn the scorned garment.  Did I let him?  Yes, for despite my discomfort, I needed to honor his emotional place.

Sometimes in parenting we illuminate the issues, process the events, foreshadow the consequences, and model the expressing of feelings, but we don’t change the outcome.  Children may be sponges, but they don’t necessarily absorb what we offer them immediately.  We give to them our perspective, our life experience, and then we need to acknowledge the journey is ultimately their own.  But secretly I hope that the next time this R.O.U.S. jumps, Cole, armed with the learning from the previous experience, can hear the popping of the Fire Swamp and (metaphorically) singe that sucker, forcing it to release its hold and slink away.  Will it work?  I’ll keep you posted.

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Way Back Into Love

February 7, 2011

Falling in love is the easy part.  Falling.  Endlessly.  Breathlessly.  Eyes bright with dizzying anticipation.

Yet eventually we all must land.  And the landing in love?  It isn’t always smooth.  Sometimes there are rocks and thorns and things that go bump in the night, and our hearts are bruised by the scission in the relationship with our partner, friend or child.

We land.  Broken.  Dazed.  Confused.  Eyes dimmed with the bewilderment of the jarring turmoil.  What happened to the dreamy nine month old who smiled and cooed and somehow transformed into a tantrum-y toddler?  What happened to the bestest of friends who suddenly isn’t returning calls, and when you meet doesn’t quite look into your eyes?  What happened to the partner with whom you cocooned yourself in witty banter, private jokes, secret smiles and now you share mostly calendar appointments, carpool responsibilities and discussions about the purchase of durable goods?

An emotional trespass has happened, and you need to find a way back.  Or not.

Is the chasm too deep, wide and treacherous?  If the path back is too fraught with peril for your heart, body or soul, then no, there is no going back.

But what if the wound is not quite as nasty, instead maybe created slowly over time by an imperceptible drift that is only suddenly apparent as you peer across at one another from isolated silos of loneliness?  Then there is a decision to make.  Do you want to again embrace them?  Is the rift one you want to mend?  Will things be different?  Absolutely.  Do you need time to mourn the change?  Yes.  Will things be less than they were before?  Yes and No.  Falling in love is about the façade.  Each person only exposing their best side to the other.  Now we get a chance to be with their whole being, and with that comes the release to be our complete selves as well.  The transgression strips away the outer layers and provides us with the opportunity to communicate at a deeper level.

To repair the relationship, we must forgive.  Forgiveness is not merely absolution, it is creating the space within yourself to move forward.  We climb the narrow and precarious steps to the top of the silo, grab a handful of grain, and leap once more.  The fall will not be a free one, without care as the wind rushes past your face.  This fall will be foreshadowed with the knowledge that the landing may hurt yet again, may yet again be strewn with sorrow.  But during the flight we can release the seeds of passion, friendship and caring to be spread once more on newly fertile ground.  We take the risk in the hopes of reaping the rewards of reconnection.

The world you discover after you find your way back into love is deeper, quieter, full of meaningful and grateful glances.  It is a world filled with grace.  I hope you find your way back, and I wish you soft landings.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

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