Off to College

Off to College

Dear Harrison*,

Thinking about this moment has had me tearing up since junior year (to your wide-eyed amazement).

I’ve prepared in weird ways. Like my very un-green decision last year to drive you instead of signing you up for the schoolbus. (Note: the driving age in Hong Kong is 18.) Allowing you a few more precious ZZZs and grabbing the chance to connect seemed all important! 

I also started asking for experiences, in lieu of gifts; the best was when you came to my Kirtan gathering for Mother’s Day. 

And now, it's almost time.

A few weeks ago, I spent two days at your university, listening to deans, advisors and mental health professionals tell us parents how to support you and your classmates in the upcoming year. I was pretty relaxed; nothing they said was too jarring.

It all made me wonder: What would this moment be like had I not learned P.E.T.?

We would not be as close as we are

If I'm honest, our relationship might have been in a state of disrepair, with me wondering what went wrong. Instead, I changed myself and, in so doing, resuscitated our relationship.

P.E.T. opened my eyes to the idea of agency -- that I have a Line of Acceptance that I am in charge of. This was news to a mother who often felt that parenthood was akin to "surrender."

Would you agree that I have moved from the first variation to the second?

"[Some] parents, as persons, are just plain unaccepting toward others . . . Often these are people with very strong and rigid notions about how others "should" behave, what behavior is "right" and "wrong" -- not just about children but about everyone." -- Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, page 17

"[Some] parents, as persons, are just plain unaccepting toward others . . . Often these are people with very strong and rigid notions about how others "should" behave, what behavior is "right" and "wrong" -- not just about children but about everyone." -- Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, page 17

"Some parents, simply because of their own makeup, have the capacity to be very accepting toward children. Such parents, interestingly enough, are usually very accepting toward people in general. Being accepting is a characteristic of their own personality -- their inner security, their high tolerance level, the fact that they like themselves, the fact that their feelings about themselves are quite independent of what happens around them, and a host of other personality variables." -- Gordon, P.E.T. pages 16-17

"Some parents, simply because of their own makeup, have the capacity to be very accepting toward children. Such parents, interestingly enough, are usually very accepting toward people in general. Being accepting is a characteristic of their own personality -- their inner security, their high tolerance level, the fact that they like themselves, the fact that their feelings about themselves are quite independent of what happens around them, and a host of other personality variables." -- Gordon, P.E.T. pages 16-17

I learned that, while I may not be able to control the thoughts that pop into my head, I can choose whether or not to believe them. I may feel angry, but I don't have to act aggressively. By getting more in touch with my inner experience -- my own feelings and needs -- and working on challenges leftover from my own childhood, I had less compulsion to control you and the way you lived your life.   

In the last session of the course, we ask parents to consider a series of questions, including these: 

Am I willing to try on for size some of the behavior I now find unacceptable?  Am I willing to listen to my child’s music, spend time with her friend, watch his/her TV programs, etc?

I’m so glad that I can actually admire your gaming skills (rather than only fret about them as I used to). I know you better, enjoy you more, judge you less. 

I like accepting you for who you are, and seeing your strengths and gifts rather than your faults and weaknesses!

I REALLY like feeling I am the benevolent presence in your life I always wanted to be.

You'd be less skilled up

As the speakers discussed the University's strategies to address the mental health and social problems many freshman experience, I listened attentively but without panic.

You have been open to changing too and this will serve you well!

  • You reached for the P.E.T. book on your own and read it through. 
  • I have watched with aching tenderness as you have Active Listened your brother, sister, father and, yes, me. 
  • We have jotted down notes to help us find enduring solutions to ongoing problems, ones that satisfy needs, not egos. 
IMG_1779.jpg
  • I have seen you digging down and finding the courage to self-disclose. Do you know how much that meant to your brother who so looks up to you? By expecting that he would listen and really hear you, you gave him the vote of confidence that he would want to change out of respect for your needs.

This summer, holding our inaugural Youth Effectiveness Training together was pure bliss! When you verbalized how useful it was, especially for those aged 18+, I felt so privileged to have given you something extra for your off-to-college toolkit.

First ever Youth Effectiveness Training class with my three kids, nephew, niece and family friend!

First ever Youth Effectiveness Training class with my three kids, nephew, niece and family friend!

I'd be a basket case

Very likely, my anxiety would have been getting the better of me by now.

P.E.T.'s central analysis -- Who owns the problem? -- helps natural worriers like me. Pausing to decide who has unmet needs in the moment has provided countless shocked parents, including yours truly, the option of realizing, Hey, NOT me!

I could simply notice, accept and then choose how to act or not to act at all.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression though. I really had to practice accepting your emotional reactions -- however negative, unrealistic or out of proportion they might have seemed -- and reflecting back what you were communicating.

Hard as it was to learn Active Listening, though, it was far more difficult when I felt I had to put out all the fires of your life.

And, like most people who want autonomy, you didn't like the bossy firefighter me too much. 

You know, it's funny. I've been on a journey that I took great offense to at first. When I saw "Modify Self" as an option back in the fall of 2011, my insides churned -- Ahem!! As a parent, I know best, so why would I have to change ME?

But Dr. Gordon had a point:

Parenthood in our society is considered more a way to influence the growth and development of children than the growth and development of parents. Too often parenthood means “raising” kids; they are the ones to adjust to parents. There are problem kids, but not problem parents. Supposedly there aren’t even problem parent-child relationships.
— Gordon, P.E.T., page 309

So Harrison, as you leave home for the great future ahead, here are some thoughts:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quote

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quote

Your roots are here with us, in a flawed yet very open family, one that will continue to evolve to support each of its members. 

Your wings are set and ready to take you to new places: exhilarating, surprising, delightful and painful. Your wingspan will inch ever wider, to take into the shelter of your big, beautiful heart the lucky ones you grace with your presence. Watching you soar will be a favorite pastime from here on out. Gotta find my binoculars.

Love you with every fiber of my soul,

Mom

 


* Harrison is one of the pseudonyms I use to protect my kids. I thank him for approving this post and for inspiring me the way he has.



Credits: Roots & wings visual (https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/77/91/5a/77915af055dc49f569c0c2a306048bb6.jpg).