Cowgirl and I just returned from Chinese Heritage Camp in Colorado. This year was our sixth year and as always, we come home exhausted but full.
Camp is a family experience. While the kids move through activities and classes with their peers - this year Cowgirl had Kung Fu, yoga, Chinese dance, arts and crafts - parents attend workshops of their own in addition to helping out in assigned volunteer roles. The workshops cover a range of topics specific for the adoptive parent: information on identity, race, grief and loss in addition to information on Chinese culture and heritage. (Heritage Camps offer 11 different camps specific to the adoptee's birth country such as China, Vietnam, Korean, Latin America, Africa and Caribbean) Camp is about family and community and we both look forward to the time reconnecting with old and new friends.
It is an invaluable opportunity to connect and share experiences with friends who understand without us having to go into exhaustive detail or explanation. Our camp friends know and understand and together we support and assist each other. Every year I come home with a new insight, parenting tool or awareness often gifted to me through the stories of the adult adoptees who generously come to camp to share their insights and experiences.
This year there was an emphasis upon understanding the pressures our tween and teens face. This is not exclusive to adoption; all children are under greater scrutiny due to social media. The level of self-consciousness is immense and I've watched many an adult - myself included - struggle with the constant comparison to a picture-perfect news feed or styled webpage. When I think about my tender and still soft-as-fresh-clay daughter attempting to understand and define herself within this human fishbowl, my head and heart spin. Even the so-called experts - the child therapists and researchers studying the impact upon our brains and nervous systems - acknowledged we are traversing unknown territory.
So what's a mother to do?
I begin with myself. The A-Ha moment I had this year was nothing I hadn't already heard or known, but I understood its significance at a deeper level. In a class on parenting with mindfulness, it struck me that while I have attempted to be present for my daughter - to seek to perceive the hidden issue within the surface storm - I wasn't doing the same for myself. Or rather, while I am aware of my reactive frustration, fear, anger or confusion that may be triggered by her upset underneath my reaction is an intense and immense discomfort that speaks more to my wounds than to anything she may be negotiating.
This discomfort stems from a belief that I am to fix or find the solution to my daughter's problems. When she is upset, my mind is racing to find the right words to soothe the ache; when she is struggling I frantically turn over in my mind possible strategies or metaphors to help her find her way; and when she is overwhelmed or emotionally distraught I dig in my heels and attempt to reel her back to earth.
Yet my responses speak more to my own insecurities than to being really present for my daughter. And then it struck me that that is all that she really needs from me: to be present for her. Not to fix her or offer advice or perspective. But to acknowledge her experience; to hold space for her to explore and feel what she is feeling; to honor her responses and emotions which include confusion, anger, sadness and frustration along with happiness, joy, and excitement.
More than solutions or answers, my daughter comes to me to for security and to express vulnerability. I hurt. I am upset. I am afraid. What she needs from me is safe space to share all that is bubbling up within her. She wants to feel seen and understood and when that happens, often her own perspective shifts and broadens. She moves into a space where solutions are visible. She discovers she knows more than she previously realized. She learns she can trust her own knowing, her own instincts and intuitions.
In turn, I sink into trust with myself: that my presence - which is my attention, my love - will be enough, will be equal to the task at hand. I don't need to have all the answers - an illusion I've spent a good deal of my life hustling to maintain - I simply need to hold space for what is and allow time for us to make our way forward. This is how we strengthen and empower ourselves. This is the true and transformational space of love.