Thursday, 5 April 2018

The "Parent" Dance

In England, there is a famous “ritual” called the “Changing of
the guard”. It is a very clear signal of change. The old guard forms on the north side and the new guard forms on the south side, a royal salute signals the handing over of the old guard and the new guard. There is a sequence, everyone knows, there are no surprises, nothing unsure. The march is set and the change is clearly complete. It is full of intentionality, ceremony, celebration and pride. It is done with expertise, precision and it is very clear, the old guard is OFF and the new guard is ON.  People travel from all over the world to see it, but it is more than ceremony, it is fulfilling a very important job of protecting the monarchy of England. 

There are many times as a parent, that the duty is clear, the “march” is set out, the change is obvious. The times in life where your child starts school, moves from primary school to high school, when they can drive, from a legal perspective when they can drink alcohol, when they are legally able to go to a club, when they move from single to married. These are obvious signs of the “change”, the old has gone the new has come, things have changed. We (or maybe it is just me) like to live in the black and white zone … knowing what is right and wrong, what is a YES and NO, what has come and gone, where we stand, basically on everything. It is so much easier. 

And YET… parenting is more often than not, a DANCE, rather than the “Changing of the guard.” I can just see the comical portrayal of what the “Changing of the Guard” would look like as a dance; a back and forward, teetering from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ to ‘yes’ to ‘maybe’ to ‘are you sure’ to ‘YES’ to ‘rack off’ to ‘if I have to” to “no.” I probably lost most of you then, but that is the dance that goes on in my head as a parent of teenagers learning to become adults. 

The challenging, yet never boring “dance” of a parent who longs to walk alongside their child, empowering them to become an adult and yet never quite knowing which step to take at times, to lead them towards the end goal.  Never quite knowing when we are leading or following, coming or going, listening or speaking, stepping up or stepping out, and at any time a quick “change step” must happen, which often takes you by surprise.

I wonder what that looks like in your world?   For my world, it’s the time where she wants her independence shopping, until she wants me to go to the toilet with her, or when she wants me to pay for something. It’s the time when he wants to stay out late as long as he wants, until he needs a lift home and we are to drop everything and go and get him. The time when she can drive and have independence until she crashes and needs saving to get back on her feet again. The time where he moves out, until he gets stuck and needs to save more money so he wants to come back home. The time when you can’t touch her or say anything, until she snuggles into you or wants you to say she looks great, and you clearly didn't get the memo. We have all been there. Oh, the dance we dance, when “no” is not always “no” and “yes” is not always “yes” and more importantly when “no” is actually “yes”.

I have recently had the privilege of being intricately involved in the last week of a young woman getting married, the last night in the house before moving into her new house with her new husband, the many preparations of the ‘changing of the guard”, from single to married. And while the changes are clear, the ceremony is well rehearsed, there is pride, celebration and joy, yet it is not without the ‘dance’. It is an interesting place as a parent to say goodbye to your child to marriage, to understand that the rules have changed and to navigate the dance well.  I have watched this family up close. It has been a privileged and a blessing to get this glimpse, before I will dance this particular dance myself in the future. 

That last night in the house, the final signals that a change is about to happen, the joy and sadness all mixed in together. The look of confidence on the new bride as she has everything organised and ready, until one thing goes wrong and she looks at her mum with eyes that say “fix it”. The beauty of dad walking (marching) his little girl down the aisle to the new man in her life and the words she utters beforehand - “don't look at me and I won’t look at you” - for they know they will both be crying with deep emotions that will distract them from this moment. That first dance, as a new bride and groom, which signals the last dance for Daddy to dance with his little girl. Of course, she will always be his little girl, but on this day some things have defiantly changed. Even on this day, where the “changing of the guard” is clear, it’s still a “parent’s dance”, it is exhausting and not easy to do well. But when done well, like any dance, it is beautiful, graceful and a joy to watch.

For a parent, I am not sure if it ever stops. For me this dance has only begun in the last few years, so I am still learning how to navigate it well. But one thing I do know, it is worth it, learning to dance it well. The cost is too high, not to. I have seen too many times when relationships and connections are lost because parents could not dance the dance well. 

I think it helps to name it, talk about it and acknowledge the “dance”. It is a start anyway. It is great to learn and watch others who have gone before and know that even when we mess up the steps, we can still choose to dance again. While I have seen it first-hand recently, it has reminded me of how well my mother and father danced the dance and the strong foundation that has given me over the years. I am so thankful for them and what they have taught me. The challenge is to simply keep getting better at the dance, and that requires practice, practice and practice. So, stay in the dance and never give up. Your relationship with your children is worth it and the gift you give them is a strong foundation to dance their own dance in time.