Friday, April 8, 2011

Mother-Daughter Book Bite

LETTING GO OF OUR WILLS …to get our way
This works—if we let go of our scripts.  Here’s a translation of a common script:
Daughter:  I have to fight with all my might, right now, and resist my mother’s control! 
Mother:  And I have to teach this girl a life lesson, right now

Sometimes in that script we don’t even see each other; we just see our own agenda—that feeling of now can grip us, rather than a feeling of holding the moment in calm hands.  Our girls, of course, can’t let us win!  That would be a blow to their burgeoning will.  So they dig in. And it’s not pretty. And due to the sheer ugliness of it, I have to teach that girl that lesson, right now!—right?  Well, no. Finally I’ve learned to see that I actually don’t even want to win, in the traditional sense, with my daughter.  I don’t want to try to teach her a lesson right when our dynamics are most heated.

Finally, I’ve become willing to take that old script and whip it into the wind--which sucks, sometimes, because holding the old script can be comforting. But we are both now willing to write a new one, to write a new one that feels mutually empowering and fun. Because Lily doesn’t want to do it, if it’s not going to be fun.)

I have gradually given up the power that had taken ten years to accrue.  I practiced letting go of needing to be right, needing to have the last word.  I invented ways of smoothly releasing my power in a way that felt comfortable to both of us. I let go of thinking I needed to teach her a critical life lesson during the hectic five minutes before leaving for school.  I was motivated by my observation that…it’s working! Somehow, magically, after our mutual willingness to let go in that moment, magically, we would have a moment later that evening during which she or I could say, can we talk about it?  How can we do it differently next time? 

It’s kind of a miracle.

I have an emotional, talkative, and occasionally offensive teenager. We are allowed to be mad at each other, but we’re not allowed to blame each other or intend to hurt each other. We do heat up at times. Recently I was so inflamed that I seized her hand, accidentally scraping it—and I had fresh flesh under my fingernails as evidence! It was a horrifying moment in which the Universe was truly putting me under arrest--oh, shit, what if I’m a child abuser?--and after we had inspected the depth of the clawprint and I had expressed my apology, I said, “The only thing that’ll make me feel better about this is if I  kiss that knuckle every time you ask me, for the rest of your life.”

She loved this. And I knew she’d treat my vow with reverence and respect.

A bizarre new script, but we were both thrilled with it and now it’s even funny, when I voluntarily kiss that still slightly scarred knuckle, before she can even request—or protest. Blame is all my family has ever known, so disowning that old script has been liberating.

But letting go meant disengaging my will—right when Lily was starting to grow hers. It was almost counterintuitive. But that’s because the old script says when the other team gets stronger, you fight even harder. (Look where where that’s led the world.)

We have practiced—and practiced—during times of conflict, letting go.  It turns out that it is much more difficult for me than for her, because I have been practicing, for 40-something years, the art of holding on! Of digging in!  Look—there are fingernail marks to prove it! Deep ones! I like to get my way!  I have a habit of holding on to an argument—especially because I’m RIGHT!  Lily has inherited her share of RIGHT-ness as well, but she is more willing, in the heat and drama and attachment and escalation and resistance, to be the one to say, “Mom, let’s not do this.”  And she never feels like she’s giving up power, or giving in. She does it because it’s fun for her to do it a different way.

We know that the only way anyone actually wins is if we both let go, if we both let go of that ancient and undesirable feeling of digging in, of getting my way. 

Power over her, or the urge to shape her behavior, is less and less enticing to me. It used to feel great, and now it barely rates. In Lily’s striving for independence and autonomy, we both experience the thrill of surrender, of surrendering to the desire for Peace and connection, which is a more fulfilling reward than winning a battle of wills.

Now we are in a new stage:  recognizing that moment of potential conflict escalation, because we know—from experience--it is summoning us to surrender to the beauty of the moment, to the joy.  We don’t dig our heels in, we are not gearing up to win—we know we are both going to win.  Before it even begins. In an ironic twist, that moment of potential conflict brings a quick surrender to delight—the delight of surrender.  And it can happen with a glance in a crowded supermarket, or with a high five in our own kitchen.

On a larger scale, if there can’t be that kind of surrender to Peace in a mother-daughter relationship, how can there be Peace on Earth?  What would the world be like, in the future, if today’s kids learned to enjoy the peaceful art of surrender--if they learned that true power lies in mutual empowerment?