I mentioned that my daughter and I committed to doing a 5 K run at summers’ end. I’ve completed maybe a dozen runs – she joined me for one and I hadn’t really pushed beyond that. I wanted her arm to have more time to heal and she was enjoying sleeping in, while I was enjoying the mornings to myself. It now felt like the time to help her organize around the goal. When I mention that she should join me as much as she can to build up some stamina, she looked me in the eye and gave me a lovely ‘back off’speech. “Why do you act like I always need to WORK on something? Do you think there’s something WRONG with me?”
Ah. What a precocious child. Wise, and frustrating.
Here is where my mind went:
First line of questioning:
Am I overparenting or underparenting? I lay out the background facts to check in on my approach. I feel clear that she needs this experience and that I should help to structure it. She has a tendency to resist anything that is unfamiliar and without pushing, she stays in her narrow comfort zone. She is losing confidence in her ability to be ‘athletic’ and this will be one of the few times that I’m going to push.
I know this issue is both about encouraging fitness goals, but also about ORGANIZING around a goal, and making a commitment to that process.
I see in her my own ‘creative’ nature. I see the ways that she needs a little guidance, persistence, a certain quality of attention. As I explore the ‘what she needs’ point by point, I find a nagging refrain of guilt that I have failed to provide it. I’ll be honest. This takes over the rest of the ride in my thought train.
In some ways, I’ve failed because of my own limitations. I see so clearly that a chore chart would help her to be focused and accountable but I lose my own focus to make it happen after the first week. I want to get her opportunities to meet new friends but my work schedule intrudes and I neglect to shore up playdates. I know that she could use my guidance to get organized around a school project but when she resists my efforts and I have dishes to do anyway, I don’t push.
So as I sit in front of her on this issue of running, I’m feeling quite guilty that I haven’t been systematic, clear, and ‘ACTIVE’ as a parent. Guilt, inadequacy, and lots of ‘shoulds’. I’m just not good enough at what I perceive other parents do with ease. I know better from working professionally with parents to know that we all feel this way. But this is where this train went. Chug chug chug.
Second line of questioning.
If I’m committed to guiding her into new skills, is there an underlying ‘wrong’ that is being fixed? If I think of my daughter, I can accept that she is as she should be. She’s in a state of becoming that is a child on the brink of adolescence. But do I really believe that new habit formation is not intrinsically an ‘improvement plan?’ When I am trying to ‘improve’ upon myself (as a parent, or for my own wellness) is it from a place of honoring this life I have, or feeling inadequate? And do I go in with greater zeal as a parent on those issues that I most struggle with?
I do feel that my efforts to get back into running are coming mostly from a place of acceptance and skillfulness. I know, and have known, that exercise like running lights up my brain in the places that can tend to be dark and foggy. It brings greater vitality, keeps my depression at bay, and I feel more alive and connected. When it slips away, when the habit is broken, it takes effort to get it started again. The habit building is good for me but requires ‘greeting the pause’ of resistance at times. I allow myself to take a day off or adjust my goals when my body tells me that it’s not right to push. It’s about discipline but also gentle attention. It has been, however, a long journey to get here and including my daughter is getting a little messy.
So there’s the actual habit I’m trying to reestablish around running. But the more I focus on this goal, the less I’ve been committing to my yoga practice. When I had a greater focus on my family in these weeks of summer, my writing time was eradicated. I can accept my body where it’s at with my running, but I am most definitely struggling to accept all my other imperfections. My energy wanes, my mental focus wavers. I feel I should be on top of it all and I am particularly harsh towards what I perceive as falling short of some imagined degree of parenting attention.
I walk away from this conversation and the silent ruminations that followed . I see that while I asked her to get eggs from the barns, she has found 2 of the 12 and left the egg basket on the hood of my car. She left the water running after filling the waterer and my garden is quite flooded. The mail she brought in is scattered on the bench instead of the place we’ve asked her to put it every day for the last 4 years that she’s been old enough to get it from the mailbox. Do I call on her to finish a task to completion? Give her time to just daydream and give up on structuring our day? Do I give her ‘space?’ My own projects, half started, are abandoned as I redirect my attention to my daughter. I see, with greater focus on this particular day, the rough edges, the messy parts. I see where I feel I’m falling short of providing consistent attention. Like making a step by step plan to have a great experience trying a 5 k.
I can see that even though it’s not in the form of ‘greater success’ in the traditional sense of the word, or a pressure to design a life for her that includes specific unmet goals pushed on to the next generation, I want her life to be ‘better’ than mine. I want her to be happier, healthier. I want her to have more opportunities, fewer struggles. If I’m not careful, I just might craft my desires for her based on an underlying dissatisfaction with who I am.
I realized in this conversation, I got on the train that seems to be always available to us as parents, the “trip” of the ego that takes the intention of loving guidance into the wrong directions. Instead of being focused on her needs, I can slip into this being about me, my failings, and a struggle to ‘make’ her into a better version of me.
I believe both that it is my job as a parent to nurture healthy habits in my child and that it’s my job to accept her wholeheartedly and to get out of her way. I can share tools for healthy eating, for managing stress, for working through emotions and conflicts. I can also share tools for mindful attention, for organizing, even skills around keeping her environment clean and budgeting that I did not get from my family. But I also believe that she has a path of development that just unfolds and I have to tune it to what is my stuff if I’m going to be clear enough to find this balance.
I hope she always remembers, that there is, indeed, nothing wrong with the body, the mind, the life, she’s been given. I am accepting (in small bright moments) that in all my imperfection, I have been given an opportunity to have this body, mind, and life as it was given and this opportunity to be challenged and to grow with the prompting of a young, amazing, and unlimited girl that I’m lucky enough to call my daughter.
When I’m running, (and in many other things) I am finding that place between effort and ease. A quality of ‘good enough’ and ‘growing’, a place of peace, of connection. It’s that quality that I hope to share with her.