Monday, March 20, 2017

The Burden and the Gift

After a long, full evening of church youth activities, she walked into the house looking just sort of defeated.  This was not a look I was accustomed to seeing on our generally upbeat, unflappable firstborn.  "How did it go tonight?" I asked.  "Horrible.  It was just awful," Amanda sighed.  "What do you mean?  What happened?" I inquired.  She went on to give me something of a rundown.

Lifted (the high school youth group event) had gone "fine, kind of boring" which was not an uncommon review for this girl.  Last summer, she took on a teen leadership role in the church, which came with an extensive application and training process and can be quite demanding of her time, energy and skills.  I was supportive of this (Dad, too, when he was around to discuss) because I feel strongly that anything or anyone that connects a teen to his/her faith life is a wonderful thing.  I experienced this in my own youth-- a dynamic youth director, spirit-filled gatherings with other young faithful, a compassionate pastor, the opportunity to shine in the church choir, a patient faith formation leader, the peace of perpetual Eucharistic adoration-- whatever leads a young person into a deeper relationship with God should be supported.

Amanda's frustration came from the meeting that happened before the youth group gathering.  The teen leaders are working on their annual Lenten drama, a living stations of the cross presentation, and Amanda is the director.  According to the daughter, this is a role she did not seek out but was instead appointed.  She is a strong young woman of broad and considerable talent, so I can see how this would happen.  Yet, she is also a freshman, newly turned 15, and, thus, among the youngest in the group.

"Mom, they asked me to do this and so I'm doing it," Amanda said.  "I thought about it and I have some ideas, but it is a disaster.  They wouldn't listen to me.  They shot down my ideas.  They kept saying, 'That's not the way we did it last year.' Mom, they WERE EATING CHIPS ON STAGE."

(I'll pause a moment to let that sink in... because she did.)

I let my daughter vent.  I am working on my listening skills.  I know that most often all people need is to be HEARD.  When it comes to parenting, I am an idiot novice on many, many fronts, but I do hear my children.  (Their father would say I hear them too much, because then he later has to hear me go on and on about who's doing or not doing what and what we should learn from that and how we should act...)

Amanda's frustration spilled over onto her cheeks.  "I don't even know why I'm crying," she swiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands.  "It's not like it's that big of a deal."  I nodded, and patted, and patted, and nodded.

"Darling," I said, "I am going to tell you something that might be of use in this kind of situation.  Then, again, it might not, but it's what I have:

"When I first had you, when I was a new mom, it felt as though I was constantly receiving unsolicited, conflicting, annoying advice on how to parent you.  I would take you out, and a stranger would comment, 'You should put a hat on that baby-- she's going to catch a cold,' and, then, the next stranger would chime in, 'Take that hat off that baby-- she's going to overheat.'  It really bugged me when the advice came from people close to me.  I understood they were trying to help, but it felt like such unwarranted criticism. 'Have you tried putting her over your knee to burp her?' 'I never liked those one-piece outfits with snaps.' 'Shouldn't she be on solid food by now?' 'Let her cry it out.' 'When are you going to take that baby to a chiropractor?' 'Are you sure it's safe for the dog to be around your baby?' 

"Exhaustion and hormones were surely factors, but I just felt as though I was under attack.  Daddy didn't want to hear about it.  Nothing bothers Daddy.  'Just ignore them,' he would shrug.  But I couldn't.

"Finally, I had an epiphany.  I am not sure how it came about, but it has helped me parent all of you and it has helped me to be at once more open to others' opinions and more confident in my own abilities.  In any situation where there was a potential for criticism or conflicting views, I would ask the other person, 'What would you do in this situation?'  At least as it applied to parenting, the result was always one of two outcomes: (a) the person would offer a solution I had not considered that could actually solve the problem or (b) I would discover the other person really didn't know any more than I did.  Either way, I felt better."

We sat some more.

"Thanks, Mom, I think," Amanda said.  I replied, "Yes, Dear, I know that is not at all a solution and does not make you feel better, but I do think it will help you to find your common ground.  I have faith you are all in the same boat and will find a way to work together toward the goal."

She sighed, got up, and lumbered toward the doorway, ready to shower and then sit with her thoughts.  "Oh, Amanda," I stopped her, "One more thing: All leaders face opposition.  Brace yourself, embrace others, and find a way to cope and accomplish.  This is your burden and your gift."

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