One of the great advantages of living in the Pacific Northwest is the accessibility that we have to the ocean. A while ago, my friends became captivated with surfing and began to head out every Saturday morning to catch some waves. They convinced me to join them in these amazing "dawn patrol" sessions. And so, somewhat reluctantly, I would head out at 5 am, drive up the west coast of Vancouver Island, don a wet-suit, and jump into the icy water.
This was all cool. I mean it felt cool. It felt like we were young and adventurous and immersing ourselves in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It felt like something that, as young islanders, we should be doing.
The only problem was—surfing is extremely hard.
It looks so easy when you see world class surfers flying up and down a breaking wave, but in reality it is terribly difficult. The strength required to paddle a board out past the break is exhausting. The timing and positioning required to be at the right place and the right time is exact. Finding that kind of perfect balance requires incredible athleticism and skill.
The thing about standing on a surfboard is that if you are a little to one side you tip. If you are standing a little too far back on the board you sink. But, worst of all, if you are too far forward on the board the wave will send your nose into the water and barrel over you, thrashing you like dirty laundry in a washing machine.
Parenting is a lot like surfing. You wake up early in the morning to tackle a new horizon of challenges but they are incredibly unrelenting and can pound you into submission. At the end of the day, it is your ability to navigate through those challenges with a sense of balance that will serve you and your kids.
There is a balance and art to parenting that makes it one of the hardest responsibilities to get right. When you find that balance beautiful things can happen. But when you are leaning too hard to one side you can end up swirling around in a current of regret as you see how it negatively affects your kids.
Leaning Too Far Forward - Too Strict
Some parents are consumed by fear. Unfortunately, they allow that fear to rule their approach with their kids. On the surface, these parents actually appear to be doing all the right things and they are very passionate about all of the boundaries they've created to keep their kids safe. But the reality is that these rules can overwhelm and suffocate the love and nurture that kids need to connect with their parents. Step back for a moment and evaluate how many rules and how many boundaries are necessary to help your kids develop.
Ask the question: "Is keeping the rules more important than nurturing a relationship with my kids?"
Leaning Too Far Back - Too Loose
Some parents are so laid back that you wonder if their kids even know they exist. They give their kids inappropriate amounts of freedom for their age. Sometimes this results in kids developing a surprising amount of independence and resilience because they've had to figure things out for themselves. However, in some families, it is tantamount to neglect.
Kids thrive in freedom to play and explore on their own, but rules and boundaries give them a sense of safety that is necessary to experience that freedom. Developing a proper sense of self and relating well to others requires caring adults who nurture and guide by giving appropriate structure.
Ask yourself: "Can my kids rely on me to give them the guidance and structure that they need for this time in their lives?"
Grabbing the Board - Too Close
One of the problems that I often face when surfing is not letting go of the board and "popping up" when the wave begins to propel me. Standing up at the right time is tricky and so, hanging on too long and riding the board in on my stomach is tempting. The same is true in parenting.
We love our kids so much and when they first arrive we can't stop kissing, cuddling, and snuggling them, and all of that physical bonding is so good for their development and attachment with us. However, when we become so attached to our kids that we can't let go, we sacrifice their independence for our security. At some point, we have to allow them to experience the world without us.
And that is so beautiful and terrifying to experience. It shakes you to the core to see your most beloved leave your side and enter the great unknown of life without you.
But, this is the job of parenting: to lift your child up to new heights of experience, and send them into new feats of independence, all the time knowing they can return to your loving embrace.
Afraid you might be holding your kids back? Ask yourself this question:
"Are my emotional needs taking priority over the developmental needs of my child?"
Losing Your Grip - Too Distant
Sometimes parents lose their grip on their kids because they aren't close enough. Kids thrive in families in which they know the love that their parents have for them. This warmth isn't smothering and isn't given because the parent needs to feel close. It is given in ample amounts because the parents know that kids need love. Holding back that love, swallowing a kind word, or not allowing kindness and grace to permeate your relationship with your kids limits their ability to see the very best in themselves.
Distance is a defense mechanism. We employ it when we are not secure in being fully known and so we hide. But, our kids need to see us. They need to know us.
Our kids need us to see and know them with a warmth that tells them they are good.
Finding your balance in surfing is also difficult because the wave changes and forces you to adjust. Parenting is the same; things change and we have to react and adjust to what is needed at the time. We also have to work with our partner and their parenting style and the unique personalities of our kids. In all of this, there is an art and balance to parenting that is difficult to find. And, like most things in life, there is never a perfect wave.
When it comes to your parenting style, how’s your balance? Is there a direction that you are leaning too far in?
Do you need to lean in, or let go?