What Gives Me Hope

Back in October, I offered my blog post entitled Scattering the Seeds of Change, where I shared how friends were making proactive, meaningful differences in their families and communities. Admittedly I was more “aware” of how my friends had transformed how they were “showing up” in a much more authentic way. My awareness of this collective shift was cultivated over several years of long conversations, being vulnerable and trusting each other, non-judgmental support and a healing dose of empathy.

One thing stands out as a true catalyst for those who are the change-makers, the seed sowers, the light carriers — their willingness to be vulnerable. Time and time again, I have been blessed to hear the stories my friends found the courage to share. My respect and compassion for them grows immeasurably when I absorb their heartbreaking life experiences and contrast them to the courageous, dynamic, wholehearted women I know and love. They are living proof that we are “broken open” often by life. These women radiate light, emit a magnetic energy that feels amazing, and reveal a deep vein of trust that will take your breath away.

My friends are captivating storytellers. It is through their stories that we discover parts of ourselves — and find the courage to bring our own vulnerabilites into broad daylight. The more we share with each other, the deeper our friendships grow. Trust is a rock solid foundation on which to build relationships and ironically enough, it is being vulnerable that opens us up to trust.

Oh yes, it is scary to take that first step, especially if your trust in others has been broken repeatedly in the past — and who has not experienced that? The first person we need to trust is ourselves. Trust that our life experiences do not define us. Trust that how we respond and learn from our experiences is the accurate reflection of our true selves.

What I have discovered about my friends is that when they have found firm footing in trusting themselves, that is when they lean into vulnerability and bring others hope, encouragement and a roadmap. They do this through storytelling.

This past week, I witnessed the power of storytelling in a collective setting. My friend, Diane Brandt, was the keynote speaker for an annual event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – The Silent Samaritans Luncheon. The Silent Samaritans are a group of women focused on helping other women who seek counseling but are at a time and place in their lives where they cannot afford it. They were founded in 1996 and have raised over $1.4 million dollars for women in need in the Lancaster County community. This year’s event was entitled “Ripples of Hope & Healing: The Many Colors of Creativity.”

I have come to know Diane through my Beautiful Cheetahs Zoom Book Club which began right at the onset of the quarantine for the pandemic. She is a liturgical artists and spiritual director, with deep roots in the Lancaster Community. She is a talented artist who teaches how art and creativity can heal us in profound ways. I am sure that her students over the years have been transformed in ways they never thought possible. The overview of her keynote presentation shared that Diane would share how we can move beyond the limitations of our fear-based thinking and enter the spacious terrain of the heart.

Over the past 20 months, during twice a month book club meetings, Diane has often shared a personal story with us that moved us deeply. Her wisdom and insights that come on the other side of her healing experiences are profound. Naturally, I was eager to hear what she would impart to the Silent Samaritans in this more formal setting. There were several reasons for this — my lifelong best friend, Judy, would be in attendance along with some of her wholehearted trusted friends. Judy has heard many stories about Diane and my other friends in the book club. They would all be present together at this event and I so wanted them to meet. Another big reason for my eagerness was my excitement for Diane — she would be stepping into a role that much of her hard work had beautifully prepared her for — she would be fulfilling another component of her life’s purpose. Diane is a change agent — she helps others transform pain into creativity and healing.

A little sidenote — I was participating virtually for this event since I now live in scenic Idaho. I was surely wishing I could have transported myself to be there in person for this event, and I was grateful that the live streaming option was available.

When Diane stepped onto that stage, she radiated peace, joy and high energy. Within minutes, she had won over the audience with her easy going, relatable manner. While I should not have been surprised, Diane deftly took us on a journey through her life — and revealed tragic, vulnerable parts of her story that were new to me. I was in awe — here was my friend, being a complete open book to this group of caring women. She personified courage in that moment to me. She was standing firmly rooted in her own trust — trust that she evolved into the woman she wanted to be in spite of her life experiences, trust that she is living authentically and trust that she can help others in a meaningful way.

In conversations after the luncheon that I had with my friend Judy and a few of my book club friends, I learned firsthand just how Diane had created a safe place for vulnerability to have a sear at the table. Each table at this event had sheets of blank paper, crayons and markers. Diane used her gift of creativity and art to encourage each of us to draw something that depicted where we found HOPE through the pandemic. This child-like activity was a stroke of pure genius. Each woman could reflect privately on her own life, illuminated through Diane’s presentation, and then simply draw…..

When the exercise was completed, the women took turns sharing with others at their table their drawings and what it represented to them. These conversations were more vulnerable, more genuine, more open than Judy had ever experienced at prior luncheons. Guests lingered longer, connections were being made and as one guest commented — you could feel those connections!

Oddly enough, “connection” was the very word that came into my mind as I sat with my colored pencils and sheet of paper, 2000+ miles away in Idaho. It was connection that gave me hope all throughout the pandemic. I drew a loopy heart with flowing tentacles, a thick tree trunk and many deep roots. I jotted a few notes about what it meant to me in my journal. The big loopy heart is a symbol of my happiness when I am feeling both loved and loving. I lead with my heart in all my most cherished relationships. The tentacles represent my personal connections that deepened through the pandemic – including my bond with. my 8 year old granddaughter in Maryland, the growth and depth that Judy and I experienced in our lifelong friendship, the new friends I made through the Zoom Book Club who are now treasured trust buddies, a reconnection with my dear friend, AR, and the deeper bond I made with my daughter and her family while living with them through the quarantine, uncertainty and change. The brightly colored tentacles are loosely wrapped around me (represented by the tree with deep roots). They represent how relationships ebb and flow, with room for growth and space to be on our own. That smaller heart that anchors us all is the me I discovered through my personal growth work — still stretching down into the rich nourishing compost of vulnerability, honesty and acceptance.

What I find so fascinating is that many of these connections which gave me hope and anchored me through all the uncertainty — were done virtually! Zoom book club, long phone calls, twice a week Skype sessions with my granddaughter. It was the continuity and consistency of our outreach that created a framework. Honest conversations with deep dives into vulnerability and acceptance of reality made those connections stronger. Our relationships flourished — even though the Petri dish of life was not ideal.

What gives me hope is connection – the deep, solid, sustainable type of connection with others on whom we can depend, learn from and growth with through their wisdom. What I am committed to being braver about is my own vulnerability — which is the birthplace of both creativity and connection.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/songwriting-storytelling-and-dropping-keys/

This conversation with Jake Wesley Rogers will touch your heart with its honesty, vulnerability, creativity, joy, acceptance and gratitude for those who “drop the keys” for us….to free us from our own cages and light the path to our greatest potential. There are “mic drop” moments in this conversation about the power of a song to change a heart and mind. Do yourself a favor and listen to his song Pluto on Spotify….

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/the-lightmakers-manifesto-part-1-of-2/

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/the-lightmakers-manifesto-part-2-of-2/

This dynamic conversation that Brene has with her long time friend and activist, Karen Walrond, will inspire you to look for joy even in the darkest of places, but especially in the everyday things we do — it is joy that reminds us of our purpose. It is joy that fuels needed change in positive ways.

Older and Wiser Parenthood

One of my favorite things is talking with my adult children about the stuff that they are navigating in their mid-life. I don’t shy away from any aspect of these conversations even when the topics are tough. Something that I have noticed as they hit their 40’s, is that their perspectives on me are evolving as they get deeper into mid-life. They are now going back and revisiting the past through their own parenting lens. There is a depth to our discussions that I love, for it pulls back the layers of our family history and allows for healing and growth.

I’m in a better place for these meaningful talks because of all the personal growth work I have done. I no longer listen with my mind racing about how to solve a problem for them. I recognize that this is not my role now. They are grown ups and they need a confidante, a sounding board, and a judgment free space. When my focus is on listening, I find myself discovering so much more than what is on the surface. We can dig a little deeper.

As my adult children have navigated through their own life experiences with marriage, parenting, and careers over the past ten years or so, they too are discovering more about me as a whole person, and not just “mom”. It is in these nuanced conversations that we find new common ground and mutual respect for each other. The very stuff that they grapple with today, I also struggled with. My experiences provide perspective and assurance they too can get through the tough parts of life. The best gift that I can offer to them today is the insight I have gained on how I might have done it better. It is precisely why I gave them each a copy of the Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I wish I had not only known about the 10 guideposts for wholehearted living, but that I had someone I could confide in who would help me cultivate them earlier in life.

That is precisely the resource I want to be now for my adult children.

It’s hard as a parent to witness adult children going through tough struggles. I’d hoped they’d be spared some of those adversities, but that is not how life goes.

I don’t think it is all that unusual for adult children to be reluctant to discuss their challenges with their parents. There is a part of them that doesn’t want to admit to mom and dad that they are wrestling with life issues. They don’t want to disappoint, to burden or to get lectured.

And yet….the truth is….that we as parents have been exactly where they are and we not only know firsthand the worries, the second-guessing and the what-if’s — we know that we made it, that we might have done better and that we want to be the support system we either had — or wish we had.

These 10 guideposts for Whole-Hearted Living give me a great place to start when it comes to having some of these deeper conversations with my adult children.

I’ve come to realize that it is necessary for our adult children to have a healthy dose of life experiences under their belt before we can delve into some of this wisdom. After all, it only makes sense when they can actually relate to it.

My son who has gone through a divorce and is co-parenting his 8 year old daughter very well with my daughter-in-law, has a much different lens through which to view my divorce from his dad when I was his age. He can also assess the relationship that his sister had with their dad when she was only 8 through a parenting lens. My hope is that this does not impact his current relationship with his dad, but that it offers a new framework to understand prior mysteries about the complexities of his sister’s relationship with their father. My son can now understand that my parenting job for his much younger sister was made harder by the choices their father made about his relationship with his daughter. The ripple effect from his dad’s co-parenting decisions resulted in a lot of painful confusion and estrangement in our family for a very long time. That hard lesson learned has resulted in my son and daughter-in-law being very cognizant of keeping their daughter at the forefront of intentional co-parenting.

My oldest son reminds me a lot of myself at his age, burning the candle at both ends at work and at home. He is striving to be an over-achiever professionally and personally. Been there. Done that. I recall very clearly how exhausted I was from it all so it’s easy to put myself in his shoes when we chat. Where I used to quickly dole out advice, I now listen more and ask more questions. My focus now is to empower him to find his own meaningful solutions. I recently read The Advice Trap by Michael Stanier Bungay to help me get better in supporting him in this way. My stories about wrestling with similar work and parenting issues when I was his age offer some comfort and assuage some of his fears about the future. I can even get a chuckle out of him when I tell him that it has taken me many years to “ooze this much wisdom.”

My daughter is a decade younger than her brothers and has a lifestyle that is quite different. Her husband is a professional athlete has has been for 12 years. This means several moves to new locations every year, with many moving parts to each. She is home-schooling her two children to provide continuity for their education in spite of all these relocations every year. She has had to become a master of logistics to pull this all off in a seamless way for her husband, her children and her dogs. Like every other young mother, she can feel pulled in a thousand directions, feel like she’ll never get it all under control and she sets the bar high for all that she should accomplish in a day’s time. I used to give her examples of all that I juggled when I was raising her and her brothers and boy did that backfire. It was not helpful — and I know that now. She felt like I was judging her with all my comparisons. Thank you Brene for helping me to realize the error of my ways. What my daughter really needed was for me to see her, acknowledge what she was feeling and to articulate how I valued her and all that she does with so much love for her family. She did not need me to rush in and do things for her. She needed to know that I have her back and she can offload all her stresses with me in a safe, judgment free zone. It occurred to me that when I was her age, I was similarly overwhelmed. It was then that I realized that I had to overcome my lack of organization and ability to prioritize if I was going to keep my sanity. Oddly enough, it was my own chaos and overwhelm that led to me becoming an efficient planner, organizer and resourceful problem solver. The one area that I totally neglected however was my own self-care. I’m so grateful to be able to have these honest conversations with my daughter about the importance of taking time for herself and her own interests. She is now a role model for her own little girl – the best source of motivation there is.

Everyone of the 10 guideposts that Brene Brown offers in the Gifts of Imperfection permeate my conversations with my adult children these days. Through our deeper conversations we revisit the past with fresh perspectives, empathy and benevolence. Honestly, we are starting to heal some chasms that existed for far too long.

In a recent Being Well podcast on connecting with our true nature, Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest, shared some of their own father/son dynamics along with childhood experiences. Dr. Hanson stressed the value of adult children being able to have conversations with their parents and even grandparents about the family’s past. When we are older, we can handle some of the relevant details that may not have been appropriate to share when we were younger. He explained that this can lead to a deeper understanding of the bigger picture and can lead to improved relationships and family healing.

Brene Brown and her twin sisters had a similar conversation during the second episode of the Unlocking Us Summer series. They reflected on their own mother and what she might have been struggling with that ultimately led to divorce from their father later in life. There was no angst or big emotions as they talked through this, but rather a keen desire to understand mom and dad a little better — and to extract the lessons.

I have a few friends who have shared with me that they had long-standing problematic relationships with one of their parents for many years. It was only when they were much older and some key circumstances had changed that they had a breakthrough. In some cases, it was a parent that stopped drinking. In others it was becoming a caregiver for an ailing, aging parent. The stories my friends share are heartwarming because they came to know their parents in a totally different light. They discovered common ground, greater understanding and a humbling realization that most of us are flawed, messy humans doing the best we can. A lot of heartache has been healed through these hard conversations. A lot of wisdom has been imparted.

As my own personal growth journey unfolded, I realized that I had a lot of childhood trauma that led me to develop some of my triggers and behavioral patterns that stuck with me for decades. Unfortunately both of my parents were deceased and I could not have these conversations that might have answered so many of my questions. My brother and I have had quite a few conversations about our family and our shared experiences. This has been enormously helpful to both of us and has truly strengthened our bond. We are all that is left of our family at this point and very grateful to have each other. We are the best of friends.

I had no idea when I started my deep dive into my own personal growth six years ago that it would prepare me so well for being able to have deep, hard conversations with my own adult children. Again, I find myself extremely grateful. Anything that I can offer to my adult children to help them understand their childhood, their own triggers and behavioral patterns is an invaluable gift to them. My adult children getting to know me as a whole person, with all my crazy dreams, my flaws, my wild stories and my unconditional love, well that is the best gift I could ever receive.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Being Well Podcast – Connecting with Your True Nature

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-connecting-with-your-true-nature/

Being Well Podcast – Internal Family Systems Therapy with Dr. Richard Schwartz

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-internal-family-systems-therapy-with-dr-richard-schwartz/

Unlocking Us Podcast – Summer Series — Part 2 on the Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
https://brenebrown.com/podcast/part-2-of-6-brene-with-ashley-and-barrett-for-the-summer-sister-series-on-the-gifts-of-imperfection/

The Greater Good Science Center – Article – The Cost of Blaming Parents

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_cost_of_blaming_parents