Expectations and Identities

Expectations and Identities

Dear Ones,

As we enter this new year – our second year together and your second year of interim ministry – I find myself thinking and wondering a lot about expectations, identity, and change.

This summer, as I prepared to spend a week camping with my mother, my sisters, and their children, I spent an hour talking about my excitement and my anxieties with my therapist and even more time meditating on this. You see, I’ve changed over the past few years.

We go through seasons of our lives where our identities are clearer and we question them less. And we go through other seasons where transformation reaches up and grabs us, and where we re-question our identities and come to new understandings. The cycle is continuous and ongoing.

This isn’t surprising, but it is stressful. And it’s even more so when we change and then we go back into a setting where people expect us to still be the same – where we each have specific roles and ways of being. Disrupting those, even when it means being who we want to be, who we know we are now, is hard.

And it’s particularly hard when we’re coming to understand that our identities are multiple and are made up of not just one story but many stories. That those stories are contradictory but still may very well all be true. And that parts of our stories that we may not have given enough credit to in the past are showing up in ways that deeply influence us. Our society teaches us that we can’t hold and honor all these complexities.

For my family, for this congregation, and in the larger world this is a season where we’re living into the challenges of transition, expectations, and changing identity more.

And so I’ve found myself thinking about expectation and identity. I’ve found myself turning over a quote from the book In the Interim: “Do all churches [or people] need to take advantage of the opportunity to significantly change during a ministerial transition[times of societal or life change]? Research and experience tell us that this is a time to discover a new identity. That discovery will best be made when the congregation [or person] has examined its [their] old identity and compared it to present reality.”

We all interact with change best when we’re able to examine our old identities, compare them to our present reality, and honor our stories, experiences, and feelings. When we can hold the fullness of our pasts and perhaps even find new strength and resources in them. And we do even better when we’re able to sit in the mystery of change.

As I cultivate my curiosity in the midst of this great unknowing, Martha Beck’s change cycle from Finding Your Own North Star also comes to me. I’m sharing it below as a resource for you as we enter this new church year together. What’s your mantra for this stage of life? I’m looking forward to exploring with you.

Love and Blessings,

Rev. Diana

Parenting: The Path of Most Resistance

By Lindsay Rogers

I remember when my first child came home. My best friend from college, Joanne, already a mother of three, said to me the most profound words I’ve ever heard about motherhood: “Enjoy this time because once they turn two the real parenting begins and the worry never goes away.”

No words spoken about motherhood have ever been truer for me and I hear them swirling in my head often, although in my brain they usually sound more like, “Don’t screw up, don’t screw up, don’t screw up…”.

Skip ahead twelve years to this past June when my friend, Susan, posted an essay on Facebook by Julie Lythcott-Haims: “What Overparenting Looks Like From a Stanford Dean’s Perspective”.  In a nutshell, Lythcott-Haims warns parents that the love and care we think we are providing by doing for our children is actually crippling them in adult life.

Did the safety-conscious, academic-achievement-focused, self-esteem-promoting, checklisted, childhood that has been commonplace since the mid-1980s, and in many communities has become the norm, rob kids of the chance to develop into healthy adults? What will become of young adults who look accomplished on paper but seem to have a hard time making their way in the world without the constant involvement of their parents? How will the real world feel toward a young person who has grown used to problems being solved for them and accustomed to praise at every turn? Is it too late for them to develop a hunger to be in charge of their own lives? Will they at some point stop referring to themselves as kids and dare to claim the “adult” label for themselves? If not, then what will become of a society populated by such “adults”?

The message in the essay seemed so obvious–but then I started thinking about the scandal involving the Maryland parents whose ten and six year-olds were picked up by the police and taken to Child Protective Services because they were walking home from the park without adult supervision.  My head swirled.  How do I not screw up the balance between letting my kids experience the world and learn self reliance while protecting them from harm (and me from punishment)?  Here was my Facebook comment to Susan at the time: “I’m conflicted by all the mixed messages: kids need to learn “street smarts” but let your kids walk home and you get a visit from CPS.  Expose your kids to lots of experiences, which they’ll need to get into a “good” college, but don’t over schedule or manage them, and on and on…  What is a Gen X parent to do?  Can they just stamp my kid’s college/job application ‘Her parents did their best’?”.

I have since seen Lythcott-Haims speak and started reading her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, from which the above essay is excerpted.  I’ve become a huge fan and evangelist of her book.  I talk about this book so often that I’m sure my friends are ready to throw it at me.  What I’ve learned so far from the book, and my own childhood experience, is that it’s better to err on the side of letting our kids wade into the deep end of the pool while we remain on the edge cheering them on rather than jumping in and holding them above the water line.  They’ve got to learn “self-efficacy”—that is, what psychologist Albert Bandura identifies as, “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations”.  So I’ll do my best to stay out of their pool but, if I’m honest, you’ll probably catch me holding a life preserver just in case.

So all of these musings and book promoting have brought me to our theme this month: Resistance.  In my experience parenting is about resistance.  When our kids are toddlers they begin to test the boundaries of their world and assert their independence–they resist us.  I’ve found that parenting a “tween” (who recently turned 13) is about me resisting over-parenting her.  I am burdened with an attitude that it’s easier, less messy, will be done right, if I just do it myself.  (Gulp!  That sounds like raising a child, not an adult doesn’t it?  Darn!  Refocus.)

Back to my friend Joanne.  She has been a great parenting role model for me.  Several years before her twin daughters left for college this fall, she and her husband reverse engineered adulthood and came up with a list of life skills the girls would need to have to be successful adults, or at least be reasonably independent in college.  They came up with things like the girls needed to be able to make an entire meal on their own — salad, main dish, and a side — that would make it to the table at the same time and be reasonably nutritious and tasty.  The girls had to know how to gas up their car, check the oil, top-off the wiper fluid, and get a smog check.  They filled out their own forms, applications, cards, etc. and can look adults in the eyes and speak full sentences to communicate their world view.  Joanne would never claim to be a perfect parent but all evidence supports my claim that she’s nailing this “raising an adult” thing.

As I told my oldest recently, resisting the urge to clear and light the path for our kids is one of the most difficult things I’m learning to do as a parent.  It’s heartbreaking to see your kid in pain — especially if it’s a pain you’ve personally experienced and feel you could have helped them avoid.  But where is the lesson in that?  Our kids need to learn they are capable of dealing with disappointment and heartbreak and that their world won’t end when faced with trauma.  Instead, we need them to know they have the grit and coping skills they need to persevere and will be better armed for future disappointment or heartbreak.  I speak from experience.

Due to a family move and “girl drama”, I ended up going to three high schools when I was a kid.  It was a very painful and lonely time for me but I am grateful now to have experienced it when I did — as a teen rather than an adult.  I got through it with the love and support from my brother whom I fought with like cats and dogs most days but who, when the sh!t hit the fan, always had my back.  My junior year I had to figure out quickly that I was ok with who I was even if it meant I didn’t have school friends that year.  I had a good senior year and went to college feeling very capable and secure in the knowledge that my mom and brother thought I was a pretty neat person and I could make friends on my terms.  Learning to resist following the herd in high school was probably the most defining moment in my life.  I’m grateful my mom didn’t try to fix it for me and that I was allowed to move through it and grow from it.  Giving my children the opportunity to struggle through similar self-doubt and painful relationships may test my resolve but resisting the urge to fix it may be the second most life-defining moment in my life.  We’ll see.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

What about you?  What lessons on resistance have you learned, or are learning, as a parent?  I welcome your counsel.

If you’re interested in seeing Julie Lythcott-Haims in person, she’s touring in 2016 and will be at Bainbridge High School February 3, 2016.


Bridge or Bird’s Nest

arch-bridge-1351942475ctYJune 14 marks our annual Transitions and Bridging service, where we honor the transitions of our children and bridge our youth into young adulthood. Bridging is an interesting word, as a bridge implies that there is solid ground to land on when you reach the other side. Yet, many of our youth leave our congregations and feel lost in an adult world that doesn’t quite know how to include them or doesn’t respect the skill and creativity they have to offer our congregations at age 18, 19, 20… They often don’t find a congregation to land in until they are in their late 20’s or begin a family, if at all.

I wonder if the youth who bridge can ever really know the magnitude of the moment. The adults in your faith community – the ones who have watched you grow, taught you RE, covenanted at your child dedication – they are there urging you to cross into the next phase on your life. Like a proud mama bird, they are pushing you out of the nest. They are telling you “Now is your time, fly! Go discover yourself and the world.”

Whether it is a bridge to a set path you have determined or a nest high in a tree that you fling yourself from with abandon, don’t rush to land. Take time crossing the bridge, rebuild it if necessary. Find a new way. Make this time an adventure and alight when you are tired or need sustenance or find yourself lonely. After all, you will be busy, your life will change drastically if you leave home to go to school or to work. There are new responsibilities to take on and the excitement of being on your own. The changes you experience will come fast and furiously. Remember you have a faith home that loves you and wants to include you, even as we struggle with creating space for the fledgling adults in our communities. And when you do return, I know that with your help we can change our ways and learn how to better include you in our worship, work and play.

Safe journeys to our bridging youth!

Connection Ministry

corsageCall me sentimental, but I really wanted  my son to experience senior prom. It was such a memory for me and seemed like a rite of passage not to be missed. One final hurrah with friends before you head off into young adulthood. So I was disappointed when he initially said, “No, I’m not going to that!” About two weeks later he casually asked my husband and me what the rules were for prom night. Trying not to act too excited that he had actually decided to go, I laid out our expectations.

  • As long as we know where you are, you don’t have a curfew. (There were plans to have a big bonfire at someone’s house after leaving prom.)
  • Call us if you have been drinking and we will pick you up, no questions asked.

These certainly weren’t the rules when I was growing up and I wonder if that is partly because of my generation, but maybe it was more because I was a young woman. I know that as a young man, my grandfather gave my father the same guidelines about drinking that I gave my son. The expectations for me were much more strict. 11:00 p.m. curfew–no drinking, definitely no after-party.

I suspect that there was a desire to protect me, like I was incapable for standing up for myself or somehow would be taken advantage of by my date. Funny, but the last thing I said to my son before he left for prom was that he was responsible for making sure his date was comfortable and felt safe. I told him that it didn’t matter if the rest of the group was having fun, staying out late or partying, if her rules were different than his, he had to follow those rules.

Upon reflection, I realize I didn’t say these things because I felt like his date couldn’t take care of herself. I can’t imagine my son going out with anyone who wasn’t strong and intelligent. I said these things because it is important to me that my son knows that when we are in relationship with another person, we have a responsibility to ensure they are taken care of, that they feel safe and heard. That is marriage, that is family, that is dating, that is friendship, that is our church.

The connections we make with other human beings are sacred. Connections should be nurtured and respected. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every connection we made with another person was rooted in the sacred act of tending to the needs of the other person? If we could approach each new encounter with curiosity and openness, rather than fear? If we set about the task of building connections in order to really understand and honor the other person, not view their experience through our own lens?

Our world has enough people pushing their ideas on others, expecting them to fall in line and shaming them when they don’t. It isn’t always an easy task to let go of our own agendas in our relationships, old or new. (A point I made above as I secretly wished for my son to attend prom.) As I create connections in my new home, I hope I remember to listen more than I talk, to be curious and open, and to remember the sacred responsibility of being in relationship with another human being. Maybe it can be my new ministry!

Slowing Down Time

bawiace-sie-psyOur home finally went on the market last Friday and consequently we had two showings on Saturday afternoon to prepare for. After scrambling all day Friday to be prepared and then doing more touch-up on Saturday morning, my family was exhausted and wondered what we could do for a whole afternoon with the dogs and ourselves. As fortune would have it, it was a glorious day here in Woodinville, so we decided to pick up a lunch and head to Marymoor Park. My son cautioned us that Marymoor was crazy busy on nice days, but he took one car and we took the other and off we set for 6 hours away from the house.

After a lovely picnic in the park, we decided to try the off-leash park and at least let our large dog Fritz have a romp. As I reflect on that afternoon, the trepidation we had of spending an afternoon entertaining the dogs, ended up as pure joy. Yes the park was busy. Yes there were lots of dogs and people. But everyone was smiling, every dog was in heaven-sniffing, running, splashing in the water, meeting new friends. There was sunshine, laughter, blue herons nesting. I spent lots of time walking, but finally sat on a bench with my little dog, Max, to soak up the sun and just watch.

It’s a funny thing, time. When we were rushing around trying to get the house ready, it didn’t seem like there would be enough time to do everything we needed to do. As I sat at the dog park, time stood still for a while. Six hours didn’t seem long, but it didn’t seem short either. My dogs had water, sunshine, treats. I had water, sunshine, treats. There was nothing to do but be caught up in the activity around me and be present to the sights and sounds of people and their best buddies. Each moment was special because each moment was new and experienced. I wasn’t in my head about what needed to be done or when I needed to be somewhere else. I knew I had time to spend in this place at this moment in time, and it was freeing.

As time slowed, as I focused only on the moment, I noticed I was at peace and relaxed for the first time in a while. I am still recounting the joy that I experienced that afternoon. It was unexpected, born out of necessity and much needed. I think I need to slow down time more often!