The path is never straight and the struggle is always real when parenting.
We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time
from The Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot
For the past six months or so I have struggled.
Because a family is a system, if one person struggles that conflict invariably leeches into other family members. The source of my own inner conflict is a particular darkness which has a name —insecurity. For most of my life I have done well to mask it but I have always tread the fine line between confidence and a certain lack thereof. “Am I good enough,” is a question that I’ve let plague me with relative consistency.
Now that question, like most questions is actually a harmless thing. But the problem is never the question itself or the accompanying doubt, but what one does with both. As my wife will tell you I am a typical “over-reactor” who comes from a long line of “over-reactors.” Knowing this as I do, my strategy at times is to actually “not care” and maintain some semblance of detachment and I know that this attitude comes off to some as callousness or even arrogance.
This struggle has become an exploration, and circumstances force me to ask two central questions:
- What am I sending from within myself out into the world and what impact is it having “out there”?
- What is the world sending back at me and what impact is it having “in here”?
As I consider these questions I realize that the tensions between “out there” and “in here” are part and parcel of our basic struggle to live and be in the world. To live an authentic and meaningful life. This tension between the “inner” and the “outer” shows up when:
- our kids would rather watch TV than to study history
- we confront the impact of technology on our children
- our kid’s soccer team loses its millionth game and we want encourage in the face of discouragement
- the job is lost to someone else
- it becomes easier to sit on the couch that to go for that run
- the pain in our hearts oozes into our muscles and bones
- distraction comes more easily than concentration
- laziness and excuses replace effort and determination
- our deeply held sense of self feels threatened
Yes, as my daughter often says with a twinge of irony, “The struggle is real.”
As parents we struggle to help our children engage their inner lives.
We teach them to speak their mind; we encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings; we establish connections between education and meaningful work; we impart the value of friendships and being a good friend; we teach them that life is an ever evolving process of changes. Basically we try to bestow the wisdom of balancing the inner life with the outer life and try to model patience and loving kindness.
Sometimes, however, despite our best efforts we model different behaviors.
We stay silent when we should speak. We lose patience. We keep our thoughts to ourselves. We abandon the joy of learning for the tedium of labor. We are bad friends. In the extreme, we fight change in all its forms. At the same time we engage in an obvious struggle, we beseech our children to behave differently. Occasionally, it becomes the, “Do as I say, not as I do,” sort of thing.
We fluctuate. We twist. The positive becomes negative, the light becomes dark. And when this occurs what do we end up with?
The emotional equivalent of a mathematical shape know as a Mobius Strip.
Mathematically the Mobius Strip is what one would term “non-orientable,” that is to say that the twisted surface seems to move in opposite directions simultaneously. In its most famous form the strip resembles the symbol for infinity, but think of it as a circular ribbon twisted.
Sometimes we forget that life shares more resemblance to a Mobius Strip than a straight highway. The image is the paradox and ambiguity of human existence. For simplicity’s sake we’d love to envision the path to be straight, narrow and distinct.
In reality it is not. Everyone knows this, deep down. But we fight it. Even our children know it, yet we try to instill in them some misguided illusion of a less complicated version of “reality.”
Ambiguities, curves and twists in the strip are hard navigate and accept. They are confusing. At any age they set us tumbling. Trace the Mobius Strip with your finger (go ahead, give it a try).The dot travels both inside and outside inhabiting both light and shadow during it’s trip across the strip.
As parents, I believe we struggle with the darkness and uncertainty our children face. I think in today’s world we face a greater amount of potential fears. That’s not to say that previous generations didn’t have their struggles, they certainly did. But with the 10,000 variables assaulting our kids—student loan debt, uncertain economic opportunity, political instability, social media, artificial intelligence — how do you paint a rosy picture without sounding trite? And how do you tell the “truth” without sounding callous and cynical?
The beauty of the Mobius image is that it demonstrates the relationship between the “inside” and the “outside”. Take friendship as an example. My wife has a simple mantra that she has always repeated to my girls: “To have a friend you need to be a friend.” This one statement perfectly exemplifies being inside and outside simultaneously. That insight sums it all up.
If one were to sit and say, “Wah, I have no friends,” then the inner self fails to look outwards and ask, “In what ways have I been a friend to others.” The first statement takes; the second statement gives. We can’t always be taking in the same way we cannot always be giving. There needs to be equilibrium; there needs to be balance.
To walk the Mobius shaped highway requires balance and will.
To live takes faith and trust.
Faith that even if the curve of the strip twists itself upside down we will not fall. Trust in ourselves that we can ride out the momentary darkness of some inner twists and turns we did not count on as well as a sense of will to know that balance exists if we only look deeply enough to find it.
Photo: Jeff Kubina/Flickr
This essay originally appeared on the Plagued Parent.