Somewhere along the way, my husband and I decided that one of the most important things we could do for our children is to continuously search for little, relatively safe freedoms to give them.
Let me give you a handful of examples.
Age five: “Sure, you can go exploring in the woods behind the backyard.”
Age eight: “Absolutely, you can paddle the kayak out to the sandbar if you stay with your cousins and wear your life jacket.”
Age 10: “You know, I have a meeting this afternoon. Would you be comfortable getting off the bus and letting yourself into the house?”
Age 12: “Yes, you and your friends can go into town after school to get some pizza and look in the shops.”
Age almost-15: “You know how to back up the car. You do it so you can play basketball.
Sometimes the kids ask for these freedoms. Other times they come as tremendous surprises to them. Over the years, we have received a variety of responses. Sometimes we can barely finish our sentence before they’re dancing off in joy. Other times we’re met with a big-eyed stare and need to give them a gentle push out of the nest. And, sometimes, our suggestion is refused and we set it aside to offer again another day.
In part, we’re hoping that these little freedoms might help us avoid some bigger, decidedly less safe rebellions further down the line. But mostly, this is our way of consciously teaching our children to fly while, at the same time, teaching ourselves to let go to allow them to do so.
The first part is easier. Watching our kiddos successfully handle a new freedom results in a little swell of joy. Both my husband and I feel a little burst of pride each time we get to watch one of our kids stretch and do something they didn’t think they could do.
The second part is harder. Letting go to allow your children to fly can involve some stomach aches and a little worry. It can be the cause of arguments when boundaries are crossed—you know, you give an inch and they take (or try to take) a mile. And there’s sometimes a pang of wistful sadness as you watch the back of your little one dash off into the woods for fun that doesn’t involve you.
But we’ve found that the joy and pride in watching our children blossom into big kids, tweens and teens far exceeds any fleeting angst we might feel.
After all, we knew when we got into this that our job is temporary. While the snuggling and cuddling of little ones is unforgettable and irreplaceable, we’re here to help them to grow, to learn, to stretch—to become.
Which is a process that (hopefully) takes a lifetime. After all, none of us ever finish growing, learning and stretching ourselves. I don’t believe that we’re ever done becoming the person we’re meant to be. Along the way, we will grow into many “iterations” of ourselves—student, mother, teacher, executive, sister, friend, wife. We’ll hang onto some iterations and part ways with others. Some of our forays in life add lasting dimension to who we are. Others wind up being brief flirtations. Still others prove to be distractions. None are mistakes as we learn from all.
In fact, the only mistake would be to get “stuck” along the way and to stop growing and changing.
We have to be deliberate in avoiding this particular temptation in life. That’s right—getting stuck can be tempting. After all, change is hard. Growing can result in some temporary pain. Anyone who has raised kids knows that, at times, they just want to be little again. The same goes for us “grown-ups.” It can feel safer and a whole lot easier to clap your hands and say, “I’m [a lawyer, or married, or you fill in the blank] now. All done!” But to do this would be a tragedy. It would rob the world (and you) of the chance to see what’s next. It would be criminal not to allow yourself to continue to blossom and to become.
If you’re not currently raising kids (or even if you are), a regular yoga practice can help you avoid getting stuck. It can help us find a kind of comfort with the continual process of becoming. We become accustomed to the fact that our body changes every single day. Sometimes we can fold forward and touch our toes (Paschimottanasana), sometimes they are wildly out of reach. Every once in a while, we must face the tough fact that something we could once do is no longer possible. And every once in a while, we savor the pride and joy of figuring out how to do something we thought we’d never be able to do. Some days, we can’t stand on one foot no matter how hard we try and others we could stand in tree pose (Vrkasana) for an hour.
By coming to our mats every day, we come face to face daily with the constant evolution of ourselves.
This makes facing similar change off our mats feel more natural and less daunting. The fact that we (against all odds) learned to stand on our head (Sirsasana) may help it feel more conceivable that we will be able to change career paths. The fact that, for some mysterious reason, we spent a full year suddenly unable to fold our legs into lotus pose (Padmasana) may make it easier to stick it out during a difficult, confusing time in our marriage.
You might even catch glimpses of your kids on your mat. The fact that you chafed and fought your way through sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) for a ridiculously long time only to come to realize how good they were for you, might make you smile (just a little, and only on the inside, of course) as your teens chafe under the structure of your household. After all, chances are good that, as they continue to become, they will become aware that all those rules were because you loved them.
In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to throw another little freedom their way to sweeten the deal. After all, there are still days when I appreciate the freedom to duck out of a sun salutation (or two).
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger