When my children began approaching the dreaded years of adolescence, aptly marked by the death card in Tarot, I began to count my blessings. Look what I avoided, I thought. And, look what I saved myself from…
Like my own children, I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be liked and admired, and I was, until I wasn’t. One dance changed my life forever, and like many teenagers who plunge from the peak of popularity into the grimy sludge at the bottom of the social ladder, I thought my life was ruined forever.
Who doesn’t want to be popular? Who doesn’t want to be liked? Even as adults, we can struggle against the ideal of the outer, while neglecting the inner. Forgetting that to be liked for some superficial ideal does not fill the fountain of unconditional love.
Last night I found myself struggling for words to show my sixteen-year-old daughter that there is a freedom that can be found when you shed the desire to be admired for some outer ideal that someone else has defined for you. That when you strip away the layers of makeup and pretense, you allow your true self to shine through. I struggled, in part, because when I looked into her eyes, I saw a part of myself I still recognized.
In the reflection of my daughter’s tears, I saw the familiar face of fear. How could I show her, I wondered, that beneath fear there is strength, when I had not wholly found it within myself? As I sat opposite her on the couch, I began to call into question my own beliefs. Suddenly, I was not so sure that I had been fortunate to have found and walked, early in my adolescence, the path of the straight and narrow. I wasn’t sure I was lucky, because instead of following my own inner compass, I had followed the road-signs of rules defined through fear.
Sure, it was true I had, in the process of walking this path, avoided the clutches of promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol. I had avoided STDs, teenage pregnancy, and the wild loss of control of being drunk. Yet, as I looked into my daughter’s eyes, I realized that in that process of avoidance of the forbidden, I had held on tighter to fear than my truth.
I feared so greatly my world falling apart while growing up, that the only thing I could do was follow rules set by someone else in order to feel a tenuous steady state of security. Every time I started to veer off the course defined for me, I feared the rage of my stepfather and the loss of love of my mother.
My childhood was not conventional. I grew up in homes where marijuana was secretly grown, smoked, and shared under the radar of the law. I lived in a constant fear of the discovery of my parents’ many secrets to such a degree that I had no desire to break the law myself. Or most rules for that matter. I never really and truly played the role of the rebellious teenager because of fear.
Conditional love comes with great costs. My daughter has already discovered this. When I began speaking up to my parents when my children were young, she learned the rules of conditional love. She has lost a step-grandfather and a grandmother, not through death, but through conditions. I finally broke the rules and began speaking and living in alignment with my truth, and she, along with others, suffered the consequences. Many who read this will recognize how this pattern works. Truth often comes at the cost of great loss. As I looked into my daughter’s eyes, I understood the pain that she struggled with. How much she wanted to avoid losing the social foundation she had built under her feet. And, I also understood, in that moment, that although I was disappointed with my daughter’s behavior, I needed to set that aside and remind her that I loved her. Now, and always.
As I try to navigate the role of mother to teenagers, I call into question whether my “straight and narrow path” saved me from anything aside from danger to my physical body. I now walk on quicksand, unsure. How can I truly understand the need or desire to test the limits of freedom when I chose, early on, to hold myself in constraints?
I find myself in the role of parent, but also child. My daughter, seeking guidance from me, while I learn through her. She is living the role that I never did. Bold and defiant. Daring to break rules and stretch limits as she seeks to find out who she really is. How can I tell her not to break the rules if I don’t wholly understand the feeling of freedom?