There are moments in a person’s life when everything shifts making it impossible to view the world in the same old way. I had one of those moments. I was building toward this opportunity in my mind for months. I knew I had to make changes in my relationships with my children now that they were older, but I kept running up against frustration and miscommunication despite my best efforts.
I was trying to transform myself from being a mother of pre-teens to a mother of pre-adults. No matter how hard I tried, something always seemed to backfire. Instead of being helpful and necessary in their lives, they experienced me as controlling and micro managing. And, I admit, though I knew it wasn’t healthy for any of us, I couldn’t seem to allow them to make their own choices (and mistakes). I longed to get to the point where it was OK for them to experience pain and disappointment without having me spoil it all by telling them what to do. I selfishly wanted to wallow in self-pity and berate myself for screwing up their lives to this point, but that would have been too easy and, anyway, I was tired of going down that road. To be honest, despite years of therapy, gurus, self-help books and mindfulness CDs, I had no clue what to do.
Then came my moment. The answer hit me in a flash and I instantly knew it was the ticket. Without hesitation I decided to make a public announcement that literally transformed my life, took me one step closer to personal peace and set my loved ones free. And what was the all-important, eye-popping, humbling decision?
On February 22, 2010, I gave up giving advice for lent.
For six weeks I was not allowed to give advice to anyone for anything. (And I’m not even Catholic!) What’s more, I announced my decision to family and friends, bracing myself for their chuckles and doubts, and invited them to ask me this one simple question whenever they thought I was regressing: “Are you giving advice?!”
When my 16-year-old daughter heard this, she jumped up and shouted with glee: “You mean you will stop giving advice FOREVER?!!!” I smiled, looked her in the eye and said, “No, darling, this is only for lent. You can expect to find a huge pile of advice written on little yellow sticky notes that I will save up and put in your Easter basket.”
Later, to my chagrin, I was shocked at how often I was asked, “Are you giving advice?” That question seemed to come up several times in the course of a morning, an hour, a sentence, but I wasn’t getting attacked because I solicited help in the first place. Rather than making me feel defensive or resentful, this question made me smile, sheepishly perhaps, and nod in agreement. And by giving my children permission to check in with me in a non-threatening way, they felt empowered rather than irritated.
Most people make lots of decisions in their heads: “After New Years I am going to get in shape,” “I need to find another job,” “I want to stop complaining” — but without a public commitment, clear deadline and a built-in support mechanism, good intentions often fizzle. It takes honesty, courage and determination to change. For me, though, that still wasn’t enough. The secret ingredient, I finally learned, was to stop trying so hard. I had to be willing to trust — myself, my children and the natural way of the universe – enough to let go and jump empty-handed into the void. The freefall, it turns out, is quite liberating. Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving advice here, I am merely sharing one mother’s epiphany.