Today I had the privilege of attending the 13th annual Mother’s Symposium at Stanford with guest speaker, author, mother, and grandmother Anne Lamott. She shared so many beautiful pearls. Where do I even begin? Let me start here.
Our culture sends a subliminal message of perfection, especially in the Silicon Valley. Being sensitive, being different is simply not OK. Our culture doesn’t tell us how hard it really is. But Anne, recovering from alcohol addiction, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety says that transparency heals. “If you can hang on and have two great trippy friends along the way, you will stay alive. The way you are is the best possible way to be. To wear a suit of armor is so much harder.”
Anne’s advice to mothers is that we all blow it. We all screw up. We all damage our children. And we start over. When we share our stories of vulnerability, we often exclaim, “Me, too!” in the process of discovery. We’re scared to death that that we’ll lose our children, but we wouldn’t offer them anything we wouldn’t give ourselves. All we need to do is ask them, “Do you need to eat or talk, cry or scream?”
In Palo Alto, an idyllic town tucked in between Stanford University and suburbia, green foothills and the Pacific coast, teen suicides have given cozy parents something more to think about than higher education, escalating back accounts or exotic vacations. How can we ask our teens to be less than 10% scary so we can understand them? How can we remind them each day that they are chosen for a higher purpose that we cannot know, that they are deeply loved?
Recounting her own parenting journey in raising her son, Sam, Anne shares a helpful acronym called W.A.I.T. As parents, we often try to control our teens, especially on taboo topics such as sexuality, psychological health, and their future (what they should be doing now to prepare for their future). Julianne Harvey said, “Help is the sunny side of control”. Before we communicate with them, can we listen deeply? Can we sense where we are trying to fix or change them for a certain outcome? Can we ask ourselves to WAIT (why am I talking or texting) before speaking?
For writers, Anne offers the following advice. "Learn to love the eraser. Listen better." She draws a parallel between writing and parenting. Learn to make mistakes. After listening, rewrite the script, over and over again.
We are so hungry for something that is already here, something we already have. Maybe our teens are also hungry for something that’s already here, something they already have. When we stop, share stories, and listen, the armoring falls away. What’s left is hope, not that This or That will happen, but that we will be surrounded by our closest friends no matter what. Look how communities bond after natural disasters and the miracles that follow acts of kindness. We don’t know certain things, but what we do know saves us. The breath connects us umbilically to the universe, a higher power some call God or the Great Mystery.
The symposium is punctuated by Anne’s take on the invisible work of parenting. For her, the invisible work is working on ourselves, noticing when we are trying to control things, what we might need before we can speak and act in ways that feel safe, warm, and inviting for our children. What we expect of our children may have nothing to do with who they are. Our own inner work is necessary to know them.
(The reflections above are based on my notes from the symposium. If I have misquoted Anne or misunderstood any of her ideas, I offer my sincere apologies.)