This weekend my teenage daughter is departing on a school trip to the USA.
Oh I know. Don’t get me started. Its a far cry from my schooldays too. I went on a school trip to Aviemore and thought I was lucky. (I WAS lucky.)
My lovely daughter has been anticipating, and diligently saving for this trip for over two years. Heavens. We have ALL been anticipating this school trip for two years. The other four of us feel like surely we must be going too. They are due to fly off this Sunday. Easter Sunday. April 1st. Honestly, for all our sakes, this school trip better not turn out to be some kind of April Fools Day totally not funny joke……..
This event, though hugely exciting, especially for my girl, has, perhaps not surprisingly, brought up all sorts of emotions in me. Mixed emotions. Emotions that I was not quite ready for to be honest. I’ve been feeling all the feelings this week as I have been doing my bit to help her shop, pack and prepare for takeoff. Feelings about time passing, about wanting to slow time down, about learning to let go a little, and of course, about trust.
It requires trust to let your child cross an ocean without you.
It requires trust to hand her over for ten days to the care of teachers, who are, though clearly responsible, and most definitely police checked, largely unknown to me.
I have been feeling a tiny fraction of the feelings that many parents (often mothers, though certainly not exclusively so) describe when their children are getting ready to leave home.
OK. Im being a bit dramatic. I know this. The empty nest is a long way off. My “nest” is nowhere near empty, a fact clearly evidenced by the detritus of family life permanently dumped in our hallway. Shoes. Bags. So many bags. More shoes. Musical instruments of all sizes. (Whoever told us the saxophone was a great idea is in TROUBLE. There’s nowhere to put that thing and nobody can carry it for longer than three seconds. Nobody.)
But anyway. All these feelings. I couldn’t shake them this week. And then I “just happened” to have some music on one day while I was working at home. It was an album by the hugely talented singer and songwriter Nichole Nordeman. I had listened to Nichole’s music before but had forgotten that she had written a song called “Slow Down” about all this. In the week when I am preparing to let my daughter go on a plane without me, I heard these lines;
“I pointed to the sky. And now, you want to fly.”
Oh my. The power of music to reach right into your heart and soul when you’re least expecting it. That’s a whole other blog post.
My daughter will turn 15 later this year, and her siblings are not too far behind her. The “teenage years” which everyone talks about have actually arrived, and I can barely keep up. Phones. Apps. Options. Revision timetables. A bathroom which, on entering, is either, a) a bomb site or b) a lavender and bergamot scented sauna. (Mum and Dad. I know. I was worse than all of them and I deserve everything that’s coming my way😂) And the hormones. SO many hormones and not just theirs. But here’s what Im learning;
Children don’t just “suddenly” become adults on the day of their 18th birthday. Well ok, technically they do. Legally they do. But not in actual real life. It’s a long, slow process, wonderful and painful, both. Of course it is. It has to be. It can’t happen any other way.
I’m not a great one for parenting books these days. But I did attend a seminar some years ago led by Mark and Lindsay Melluish. Honestly, I can’t remember the majority of what they said, but I remember that they talked about control and influence, and the difference between them as it relates to child rearing, but actually you could apply it to many areas of life. This was kind of how they explained it;
When our children are very young, we have lots of control. Parents of toddlers out there; you have so much control right now. More than you think. I know you don’t feel in control when they are having a full blown tantrum in Tescos (just ignore other people’s stares) or biting the most delicate looking child in playgroup (this too shall pass) but, trust me, you are still, largely, in control. For example, before they go to school, you pretty much get to control what they eat. Yes, fussy eaters, I know that one too. But you at least get to decide what they won’t be eating very often. You get to control the media they consume, their comings and goings and the company they keep. If they want a playdate with a a friend, you have to arrange it.
But, as our kids grow older, our control very gradually lessens. It has to. There’s no way round it. This is hard for some of us to accept. But accept it we must. It’s unavoidable. It’s part of the process. It is, dare I say it, appropriate and necessary. Our children are not, in fact, extensions of us. They are separate human beings. Of course this is obvious but we so often seem to ignore or forget the fact. That’s why so many of us tend to over identify with our children, with their successes and achievements, and, perhaps more painfully, their vulnerabilities and inevitable failures.
But here’s the thing. As our old friend Control drifts further away, another friend, Influence steps forward. Influence has been there in the background all along, quietly doing her work while Control was running the show. But now it is time for her to take the driving seat.
When our children reach adolescence, total control is not possible. Nor is it desirable. But Influence is powerful beyond measure.
Ask anyone who has managed more than a handful of people in a work or any other setting. Control is impossible. Influence is powerful.
Ask a successful sports coach. Control is impossible, but Influence is powerful. (I’ve heard a rumour that even Pep Guardiola lets his players choose their own music. But this could be wrong so don’t quote me!!!)
But there’s a small problem with Influence. It demands something of us. Control may well be impossible but in many ways it’s simple. You decide on a bunch of rules and regulations and spend your life enforcing them. Exhausting, certainly, but straightforward nonetheless. Influence is much more demanding. It goes to the heart of who we are as parents and leaders. It requires us to “walk the talk”. Now, there’s a challenge.
This is a light hearted example but recently, I banned the use of electronic devices at our breakfast table. Breakfast in our family is rarely a meal that we take all together. The kids go to different schools, are on slightly different schedules, and a habit had developed of them drifting in to get their cereal or whatever, and then watching something on a phone or tablet. I got heartily sick of this for various reasons and put a stop to it. I told them that, despite breakfast being a relaxed affair, this was still a breach of our “no screens at the meal table” rule.
This went down really well with my family. You would not believe how well it went down.
Bu then, several mornings later, the house was, finally, quiet. I had a full day of jobs ahead of me, but I quickly grabbed a cup of coffee, a bowl of porridge and sat down at our kitchen table. And then reached for…………..yes, you’ve got it in one, the tablet.
Straight away, a voice popped into my head. It was the voice of any one of my adorable children.
“Oh MUM! ……………… iPad at the table!!!!!
“So it’s one rule for us and another for you then?”
“Seriously?” I argued back in this imaginary conversation, occurring only in my head. “Do you have any concept of how hard your Dad and I work to keep this home and family functioning while you lot waltz from one activity and fun experience to the next, and you are beating up on me for wanting to zone out on Facebook for ten measly minutes? Give me a break.”
But the problem is, they are spot on aren’t they? Our young people are not daft. They see when our words don’t match our actions and they are right to call us out on it.
Reader, I closed the iPad. Oh yes I did. No, I can’t believe it either. I consider it a small breakthrough. A baby step.
I closed the iPad and I soaked up the silence. It felt strange to be honest, but in a good way, as if it may have been what my soul really needed.
Influence, you are a tough boss.
As our little people grow up and step out to take their place in this beautiful and broken world, we can only hope that Influence will hover near them. That the values we have tried to instil in them over a long period of time will still be in there somewhere. That they will know deep down, not only how completely and unconditionally loved they are, but also what is right and true and good.
My darling girl, have a wonderful school trip. I know you will remember this adventure forever. Be safe and have fun.
Oh, and when you and your lovely best friend are in Bath&Body Works for like, three hours……………!!!!!!!! remember your old Mum. Xxxx
Happy Easter everyone.