Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” – Gandhi

A couple of days ago I converted Mr. D’s crib to a big boy bed by taking off one of the sides. I kept the crib thing going as long as I could because it’s so comforting to have a child stay where you put them but he’s been exercising his ability to push boundaries by climbing out so it was time.

The first night he got out of bed after I said “good-night” a couple of times, fell out of bed, and the next morning he got up 30 minutes early and woke his sister.

Of course I went through this with Miss O a few years ago but I’m reminded again of the lessons that freedom brings.

When we have freedom – to go anywhere we like or to use our time the way we wish or because we are the boss and no one tells us what to do – it is so exciting. Then we have to decide how to use it.

After the newness wears off, we have to learn to have self-control. We get to choose – within the limits of what is responsible and respectful of other people. We have to make decisions that don’t negatively impact our loved ones or people around us.

And when there’s more freedom, then everyone has to enforce their boundaries. In this case, Mr. D’s ability to pop out of bed is infringing on my ability to have morning kid-free sacred time and Miss O’s ability to sleep.

While kids who are almost 3-years-old are not the most reasonable people to talk and negotiate with, I find that having a strong relationship and consistent conversations about what does and does not work for everyone eventually gets through.

In the days that Miss O was learning how to manage her big bed freedom, I would turn on the Tibetan meditation chant music and say that if she got up early, the only option was to meditate with me. It didn’t take long for her to decide to stay in bed. I did the same with Mr D. except I notice that having another child there as a co-conspirator makes the conversation harder.

Yes, this is perhaps a strained analogy to the state of freedom in the US. But on this July 4th, may we remember that freedom comes with the responsibility to exercise self-control, be respectful of the others around us, the requirement to keep talking with each other and enforce our boundaries. Sometimes freedom works for us and sometimes the freedoms of others make us feel a little crazy and grumpy.  We have to keep working for the middle ground where freedom and respect are in balance. We made this bed and now we need to lie in it. 🙂

Happy 4th everyone!

Going All-In

To lose balance, sometimes, for love, is part of living a balanced life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I dated a guy when I was in my mid-20’s that told me early on in the relationship, like before we’d even been on a dozen dates, that he would never take me to or pick me up from the airport. That way, he reasoned, it would never look like he loved me less when he stopped picking me up.

Around the same time I had a work colleague who was celebrating his one-year wedding anniversary. He said that the key was to go really small so that he wouldn’t set a precedent that couldn’t be maintained.

What I’ve found interesting is that with taking care of babies, there is no choice but to go all-in. You start out taking care of their every need and then with time have to negotiate new roles, responsibilities and boundaries.

I recently implemented the practice that once I sat down to dinner, I wouldn’t get up until I was done eating. If the kids are excused and they need help getting a toy, I tell them that I’ll get it when I’m finished. If they want something to eat or drink that was included in dinner, I give them choices they can get themselves or that are reachable. If they want me to watch them, I remind them to do it where I can see from the table.

This practice was incredibly hard work for me for about three weeks. I had to resist the temptation to just get up and do it. Or, if they spilled something, I had to let go of muttering under my breath because doing it would be easier than cleaning up when they do it. Setting the boundary meant creating the consistency in me as much as the expectation in them.

But it is the work of maturity – in our relationship as well as ourselves. It made me think about that boyfriend from my 20’s.  It’s no surprise that I broke up with him. Among many things, his practicality limited his openness. There’s a fine line between defining boundaries and not wanting people to breech our walls.

And my colleague – unfortunately the marriage ended in divorce. Life has taught me that hedging our bets almost always limits the full range of feeling. It’s hard to walk the service back, draw better boundaries as relationships mature. But parenthood has taught me that sometimes it’s necessary to start by going all in.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Barring the Doors

Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do , Something you are, And something you give away.” – John Lennon

I dreamed last night that 2 carloads of people were trying to break into my house. To protect myself and my kids, I was in the garage, trying to roll the codes for the garage door opener and even reset the Internet router. I knew these steps would make it harder for me to get out, physically and on the Internet but it felt imperative enough to do it. As I dreamed about having to take these steps, I was so afraid that I woke myself up and could still feel the gritty fear lingering as I lay in bed.

I rarely spend any time trying to analyze my dreams but this one is too obvious to miss. I have a friend who over the last year has been flaky and disappointing. The reasons are rooted in what’s going on in her life but after almost a year of her not showing up for us, I want to lock her out. In the parallel to the dream, I know this type of shutting down makes me less accessible to others across the board but my fear of continuing in this cycle makes it seem urgent.

It all begs that classic question: how do I stay open without perpetuating the cycle? As I sit in this morning quiet place with my candles lit and my mind open, I can see the answer for me is forgiveness and boundaries.

Forgiveness to release the hold disappointment has taken in my heart. To breathe into the space of empathy and understanding for my friend’s life as she struggles to do her work. Letting go of the tally sheet that my mind has been keeping for this past year.

And setting boundaries that I can maintain. As Prentice Hemphill said, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love both you and me simultaneously.” With boundaries I can create some order in this new phase of friendship without locking everything out.

The other day my 6-year-old daughter had some friends over and when the 3-year-old pulled down the fort my daughter had spent all morning making and then laughed about it, she hissed, “I’m never inviting you guys over again!” It seems so natural to want to lock others out until we are left lonely and bored without anyone to appreciate our forts. Coaching my daughter through it, I can see we can do better with forgiveness and boundaries instead.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Strong Back, Soft Front

“Do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

Last night we returned from a small outdoor party right at my son’s bedtime. I went to take off his shoes and socks and start to get him ready for bed and he was lying on the couch, head on the pillows, looking very much like a little grown man taking a load off after a long day. When I told him it was time to get his jammies on and stooped to pick him up he said, “No tank ooo.” At 23 months “no thank you” is his most powerful phrase and although I’d never claim that he fully understands the politeness of it, it’s still quite effective.

It makes me think of a phrase I first heard used by Brene Brown, “strong back, soft front” but I believe was originated by Roshi Joan Halifax, a Buddhist teacher. Strong back, as I think it relates to parenting, is all the things I try to hold the line on to raise healthy, happy and kind children. Bedtimes, self-care, routines, boundaries with each other, politeness. They are all the things that I feel like I repeat over and over again until I hope they pick them up for themselves.

And while I’m doing that, my soft front is so often moved by the sweet little things they do, their cries when life gets too much, and the moments of pride when they show they are learning something I’ve said. It’s my soft heart that gets opened over and over again by the bravery, dignity and earnestness of little people.

The thing I’ve noticed about parenting with a strong back, soft front is that dichotomy keeps me upright in those moments when I’m out of my depth. Either I’m too tired or too confounded by a situation that is challenging me, I can hold both ideas to create a balance that will see me through. I can be overwhelmed by my love and empathy AND still have the wherewithal to get my kids to bed.

Which is what I did last night. I stopped and talked with my toddler for a minute about the day, I listened to his “no tank ooo’s” and then I scooped him up to go upstairs and read.

NOTE: For anyone interested in a great description of strong back, soft front, I found this post by Bev Janisch that includes content from Brene Brown and a guided meditation.

Drawing Boundaries

The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.” – Mother Teresa

Coming back together after a year apart feels like I’m out of practice on some things. Like how to greet people. Is it a hug or fist bump or a nod? But as awkward as those things feel to me as an adult, I’m watching my five-and-a-half year old try to manage them after missing out on about 20% of her life experience in socialization and it feels really big. Like how to navigate the friend who wants to eat her lunch.

My daughter doesn’t eat very fast. Her friend scarfs down her own lunch and then starts in on my daughter’s. My daughter wants to share and has no foresight that she is going to need that fuel or be hungry. Drawing boundaries. It feels like this is one thing that we haven’t had to do during the year of coronavirus.

Drawing boundaries has always evoked for me the idea of two countries dividing territory. But looking it up, I see that there are many different parallels. In mathematics, the drawing of boundaries applies to clearly defining when a theory is supposed to hold. In therapy, it’s the rules that govern the patient/therapist relationship. Abstracting these, drawing boundaries allow us to create predictability in relationships by defining what’s mine and what’s yours.

But I-ing and my-ing is also known in Buddhism to be one of the root causes of spiritual disease. When we start protecting territory, we stop being able to see the Unity that ties us all together. We limit our ability to see ourselves in everyone. We elevate the ego and its importance in relationship to everything else.

Of course I know this intuitively as a parent. When my babies arrived, there was little boundary between those tiny little people and me. The love I was overwhelmed with carried me through feeding, waking, changing diapers, washing clothes with spit up on them with little thought of whether they were cutting in to “my” time or whether “I” had everything I needed. It was all “we.” Now as they get older and take “my” stuff and putting it places that I cannot find, there are some distinct boundaries. But in every moment of tenderness and perspective, I am right back to that beautiful place where they are my heart walking outside my body.

Believing that there are some healthy ways to draw boundaries, I decided to step in to the lunch situation. I figure that we have all have more of a chance of seeing that we are more alike than different when our tanks are full. But I’m hoping that she goes on to solve world hunger so that’s true for everyone.