Brave Parenting - Selections
A Letter to Parents
In this book, I will refer to life’s journey as a trail, a rocky path symbolizing all of the challenges we face in everyday life—struggles with family, with friends, with school, or with pursuits outside the home, or simply the difficulties of managing our daily fluctuation of thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, however, when walking a trail, we encounter even bigger obstacles: a loss, a trauma, a diagnosis, or other setback. These jagged boulders and sharp rocks at first seem insurmountable but actually offer profound gratification when successfully navigated. In order to travel our paths gracefully, we need a way to work with the obstacles that we will all inevitably encounter, as well as the emotions that run through us like a river.
In The Way of the Bodhisattva, eighth-century Buddhist sage Shantideva tells us that we can either lay down leather wherever we step so we don’t cut our feet, or we can make our own moccasins to protect us on our path. In this book, I adapt this metaphor to parenting in order to illustrate the widespread hovering and overinvolvement parents engage in today, as many parents are busy cushioning their children from any discomfort. Unfortunately, this leather laying makes our children more dependent and less resourceful and impedes their emotional maturation process. Instead, we can create a home environment that fosters moccasin building so our children have the internal resources and emotional resilience necessary to navigate their life-trail and get where they need to go.
After working for many years in adolescent wilderness-therapy programs, I have seen many struggling young people find gratitude, self-esteem, and mastery when successfully navigating their life obstacles. The solution is not removing or softening difficulties and discomforts from our children’s lives, it is compassionately encouraging them to be brave— teaching our children to work with their own rocks and boulders and seeing their bruises and scrapes as fodder for maturation. In every obstacle we face there is a corresponding lesson, insight, awareness, or opportunity for growth if we allow our struggles to teach us, rather than fight and resist them. This is the maturation and moccasin-building process.
In wilderness therapy, I have observed that kids find relief when they stop looking for an exit, an escape, or a rescue from a parent and instead face their problems and struggles head-on. They begin to feel capable and resourceful. Deep down we all want to solve our own problems, because that is how we grow wiser and more confident in life. Yet most of us won’t if we know there is still some cushion, some way out, someone to blame, or someone to rescue us. Although adversity has merit, no one really pursues it voluntarily.
Living with the grit of Mother Nature provides indelible lessons. Because the only safety net (aside from the satellite phone) is the group’s ingenuity, each individual is challenged to problem-solve, be resilient, and work together. Though not always comfortable, living within the natural world actually returns a light to young people’s eyes and brightens their spirits. Individuals have to face nature head-on, submit to its terrain, and endure the weather patterns, whether pure sunshine or vicious storm. Ultimately kids learn that life is simple in the wilderness—they readily see that they are not in control and learn that they get out of the experience what they put in to it.
Parenting, however, is complicated. There are so many balls to juggle, so many philosophies and perspectives to consider, so many feelings to attend to, and so many doubts. The obstacles are multifaceted and the solutions less clear. It’s overwhelming, and so parents tend to cope through action: taking over a task, fixing, solving, and overmanaging.
Yet I believe that parenting can be much easier than we think. We don’t have to do it all. In fact, “not doing” allows our kids to face natural consequences that teach much more enduring and lasting lessons than us nagging or lecturing. For example, when a child forgets a rain coat, soccer clothes, or even lunch, the child will experience a temporary discomfort—but this is not the end of the world; instead it is a tangible learning experience. We don’t need to be responsible for everything; we can incrementally hand responsibility to our kids and also allow their problems to stay in their lap.
Wilderness therapy and Buddhist philosophy have taught me very simple approaches to the complicated problem of parenting today. Less is more—this is the path of brave parenting. Let’s let our kids tackle their own problems. Let’s step out of the current and rest on the bank of the river. We are not abandoning them, and we are not ignoring them—we are nearby, but we’re just not inserting ourselves into their tumult. Our kids will never become resourceful or resilient when we solve everything.
This is a book for all parents—single, together or apart, heterosexual or LGBTQ—with children of any age. Obviously, setting healthy patterns is most effective when children are young; however, these concepts can be successfully applied at birth, age five, age fifteen, and beyond. I work with many parents who have struggling college-age children; the parenting approaches presented in this book can be adapted and implemented at any point in the parent-child life cycle.
The ideas in this book are both for children who appear to be following the more “normal” path of development and children who are struggling emotionally or behaviorally. Building moccasins is a lifelong process for all of us. These concepts foster healthy parent-child patterns whether applied once your child starts talking or after he or she starts giving you the silent treatment.
This book is about creating moccasins to enable our kids to mature and individuate. With the skills presented in this book, you will equip them to navigate their own life trails.
How to cite this document:
© Krissy Pozatek, Brave Parenting (Wisdom Publications, 2014)
This selection from Brave Parenting by Krissy Pozatek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/brave-parenting.
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