Parenting & Leadership - A Letter to my Teenage Daughters

Many years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, parenting as a practice. At the time, our daughters were 7 and 5, and we were in the fullon-ness of parenting young kids – who is sleeping and who isn’t sleeping? Saying good bye to soothers and wondering, when will she stop sucking her thumb? What book are we reading tonight? Are you wearing your seatbelt? How many times have you changed your outfit today? And so on.

And now, my daughters are 16 and 18, and I am in this new territory of letting go and knowing that I need to step back, watch them step forward, listen, be here but also go away, be present and ready, but also willing to disappear…. As I said to a client recently, parenting is this practice (unbeknownst to many of us as we embark on the path) of doing a job that we will eventually not be needed for. Not many of us are wired this way – we tend to take on jobs and want to improve, succeed, be relevant and as such, to continue with this job. Not many people do a job with an intention to eventually no longer be needed or necessary. I see so many profound parallels between parenting and leadership. Being a parent teaches us how to lead. As we parent, we have an opportunity to cultivate and build so many skills and capabilities that we need to lead. And one of these is this profound ability to create and cultivate something amazing and truly beautiful, that we feel deeply proud of, and to then, let it go. And not to step completely away but to learn how to sit, be present, and observe this beautiful creation go off to thrive and flourish in the world, largely without us.

And so this letter to my daughters....

What I have been busy learning is that despite giving birth to you and raising you, you do not belong to me . You are your very own unique human being who had within her, from before your birth, so much of who you’d become. Yes, we influence and shape you, and hopefully in all the best ways, but you are an evolving human being. And I have so enjoyed watching you evolve. It’s been the most magical and delightful experience, to simply have front row seats to the evolution of a human being.

I write this because lately I have been feeling so much around this letting go as you go off and do your life. I’ve been curious, amazed, confused, unsure, worried, sad, joyful, proud, and literally, wide awake. It’s clearly not been straight forward; it’s been such a mix of emotions. It’s also been a mix of how I show up for you in this time. Sometimes I show up in a way that I feel proud of and other times, not so much. I think back a few weeks ago to when I showed you my sadness and how that left you feeling concerned for me. I thought that by telling you how much I would miss you that I was letting you know how much I love you. But I realized that I clipped your wings a bit in doing this and I was so grateful that we could talk again, soon after, so that I could do some repair work and let you know that I was just fine and that you needed to fly. It sounds so cliché but it literally is like flight. I’ve always wanted to be your launchpad – for you to know that the ground you come from and land on when you return, is solid and steady but that you can take off and fly as high as you need. I will be here when you return. And if I’m not physically here, the ground will be here for you, the ground that we built in all those years of your childhood.

I loved building that ground. I don’t know that I realized how much I loved that creation and building. I think of all that has gone into that ground…the hours of snuggles, playing, dreaming, reading, eating, crying, constructing, swimming, singing, laughing, exploring, swinging, talking…. all that is your ground. It is always here for you, no matter where you or I go. I know that this is why I was so struck by the words of Canadian musician, William Prince, (paraphrased) - ‘As you look to your future and plan for your future, don’t forget to take some time to look at all that you’ve done to get to where you are’. You have come so far in really, a short amount of time. And I know that I have come so far, from who I was before you to who I am today.

Just as it was when you were little, being your mother is a practice. It is a practice that has continued in times when I’ve been intentional about it or not, and it is a practice that has changed and evolved as we have both changed and evolved.

Parenting, in this time, is many things…It is…

a practice of letting go

a time of knowing when to step back and when to step forward

a continued practice in patience

a practice of noticing my own triggers and not making it about you

a practice in not taking it personally

a practice of going with your flow and learning to be adaptable

a practice of protecting you and also trusting you

a practice of trusting that what has been laid down as your foundation is your solid ground and it is time for you to venture out

a practice of checking my expectations at the door

a practice of imperfections – mine and yours

a practice of apologizing and circling back

a practice of finding myself, independent of being your mother

a practice of holding the fear of your departure and embracing what will open up for you and me in that space

a practice of allowing some kindness for myself as I traverse this new territory, as I learn to let go, and as I learn to be me without you

a practice of finding my identity that is not who I was before you and not who I’ve been with you, but who I am becoming and evolving into

a practice of recognizing that as you bloom into your young adultness, I am transitioning into something new that I’m not yet sure of. I am most certainly transitioning or evolving into a new time in my life as you do the same

a practice of trying to understand and trying to share my experience with others

a practice of learning from so many others who have walked this path before me

a continued practice of knowing I am not alone in this

a practice in imagination and creativity as I imagine what is ahead for you and for me

a practice of discernment…between so many things. Between you and me. Between your life and my life. Between enough and too much. Between stepping in and stepping back. Between enforcing and trusting. Between controlling and letting go. Between the past and the future. Between expectation and becoming. Between fears and dreams. Between dependence and freedom. Between being everything to you and making space for something or someone else.

a practice of feeling the absolute joy and richness of our life and knowing we can’t step back in time

a practice of being present with all that has come before

a practice of continuing to be our family and evolving in the ways in which we do that

a practice of continued love

a practice of celebrating you

a practice of not overdoing it

a practice of relating to you as an adult

I have long thought about what I want you to know as you head out into your life outside of our family home. But I think you know what you need to know. I hope you know that when you’re in doubt, you can turn right around and walk back through our door. I hope you know that I will always, as hard as I try not to, be waiting for you.

I hope that our paths will run side by side, but I know that there will be times when they don’t. I hope these times are not too long.

As with true leadership, parenting encompasses such a vast spectrum of skills, from guiding and directing, to nurturing and observing, all in the hopes of shaping a positive future. And often we don't notice or acknowledge the 'muscles' that we flex every day in almost every moment of the day as we parent or as we lead. Within parenthood lies the opportunity to infuse kindness, love, respect, and generosity into our interactions, both in our own actions and through the lessons we impart to our children. It's a chance to actively participate in crafting the kind of world we envision. I hope that you, as a leader or as a parent, or as both, will more often acknowledge all that you practice and refine simply by trying to do the best that you can.

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Wildfires and New Growth

If you've ever walked through the land after a wildfire has swept through it you've seen the miracle of how quickly new growths begin. I was astonished by the contrast between the lushness of the new green growth amidst the charred and blackened remains of the forest. How incredible that such distinct environments exist side by side. And how they support one another. The natural environment so powerfully illuminates what is possible in this experience of being human. Each and every day we exist with what is clearly in our consciousness- the elements of ourselves that we and most everyone else is aware of and can see. And, we exist with all that we keep hidden and all that we are unaware of that exists within us. We do our best to live most days like the green lush growth, trying our best to survive and thrive. And alongside that is always the parts of ourselves that we hold more privately - our vulnerabilities, our fears and worries, our weaknesses and our traumas, and all that we don't yet know about ourselves. This is our shadow side. Like the charred forest, our shadow seems lifeless and yet, within it is an abundance of potentiality and growth.

We live our lush green aliveness and our charred darkness all of the time. Nature can teach us that both are needed for our survival, our re-growth, and our capacity to thrive.

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Searching for the Whole is Where I Discovered the Pieces

I have this favorite 6km stretch of beach on the east coast of South Africa. I love to run there at low tide and as I run, I keep my eyes open for pansy shells. They can be found just after high tide in the wet sand at the shoreline where the waves crash onto the beach. Given that pansy shells are so fragile they are often broken into smaller pieces. At one point I noticed that I was in search of only the perfectly whole pansy shell. When I’d find a whole one I’d feel incredibly fortunate because they are exquisite and unique to this area. However, I often found half broken pansy shells and most often, I would walk by. One morning, as I glanced a broken one and continued to walk, I turned back. It occurred to me that beauty isn’t only in the perfectly whole ones, it’s also in the broken ones. And that this is quite possibly a metaphor for our lives. Isn’t it essential that we reflect on the pieces that make up the whole? And that if we did that more often, we might find ways to bring the pieces together?

Isn’t the truth that there is far more that is broken than there is whole? I’m curious about why we seem uncomfortable with this and how we might allow ourselves to accept that most of our lives are disrupted, broken or interrupted pieces that are valuable in their parts and also in their coming together as a whole.


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International Women's Day - the Golden Thread that Connects Us

On this Women’s Day my attention goes to the millions of young girls and women of all ages, who currently face, and who have faced in the past, unimaginable suffering and loss due to conflict that is unnecessary and incomprehensible. While new conflicts erupt, I am ever aware of the women who have suffered in conflict zones before this. It is in these times that there is a reigniting of trauma and a reliving of painful experiences. I often imagine and feel an unbreakable golden thread that connects all women and girls…a thread that intertwines through each of us and carries with it our grace, dignity, and strength that we share as a collective. My strength is yours; my dignity is yours; and my grace is yours. I am reminded so often by the many women in my life that if not for their strength, their dignity, and their grace, I would not be able to find my own.  

Image: Golden Thread. Painting by Oksana Lekhniak, Ukraine

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You Are Not an Imposter

We’ve created a label for a disorder that has been placed on an individual who is already trying very hard in what is most often a system that is not doing its best to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. Adding a label to what already feels like ‘less than’ or ‘not enough’ is deepening the injury to one human being and not dealing with the root causes. Each time I hear a client say that they have imposter syndrome I feel compelled to say – you are NOT an imposter.
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