Sunday, 28 October 2018

Let's hear it for Grand-parenting

There’s something about your kid approaching 17 that gets you thinking (yes, sometimes frantically) about her impending adulthood. More specifically, I find myself wondering what it looks like to parent her well as she moves into early adulthood and beyond.

We are fortunate to have some good role models in this area. Not many, but we do have friends who are ahead of us in the parenting game, and setting a great example of what it looks like to celebrate and support a young adult navigating college or university, how to make room in their lives for her friends and then boyfriend, how to continue to gather as a family for vacations and family time, and later how to make a new spouse feel received as a member of the family too. Just last week we met my brother and sister-in-law’s first grandson, and celebrated with them as they allow themselves to be enlarged into this new role of grand-parenting.

In many ways, it feels as though our mission family is at a similar stage of development to those of us learning how to parent adult children; metaphorical offspring who are independent and relatively mature, and are themselves becoming leaders and multipliers. How is the older generation to support those they have previously led more directively, now shifting into the role of being grandparents and cheerleaders of those doing the more direct leading and managing?

In an effort to give a name to this important role, our mission family have termed it ‘eldering.’ That is, being an elder to those who are now adult children and require something different from their ‘parent’ leader. I’m not sure this term has helped to clarify much - giving more an idea of greater age than being descriptive of the role - but it’s a start. The name ‘elder’ is really trying to get at the transition from direct line leadership, such as might come with a title and job description, to more of a relational mentoring, supportive role that is often experienced as more nebulous with less clearly defined expectations.

Here’s the thing, though. Our idea of parenting and grand-parenting seems to have evolved considerably over recent generations. If I think of my own parents’ generation, a high proportion of them went to boarding school (for Tim and me, three of our own four parents lived at school for much of the year) and had a more distant, formal relationship with their parents than would be usual currently. 

All this would imply that many of those in our mission now shifting into the role of an ‘elder’ may not have many examples from which to build their picture of what can be made of this new opportunity. And while I don’t have an answer for them - that would be reminiscent of the parenting advice people without children like to bat around - I will attempt to describe the sort of help I feel I need as an adult, from those in my life who might be called ‘grandparents.’ 

1. I need someone who will listen.
Whether you are a parent or a leader, it can be a lonely place. There are very few people with whom you can unburden about the complexities of your role and responsibilities without being misunderstood. I need someone who will ask me how it is going, and who will listen without judgment or unsolicited advice. A wise parent and a wise leader knows who not to talk to; it would also be amazing if we knew who we could talk to, safely and confidentially, and regularly. And if we could talk over good coffee or decent wine, that would be all the better.

2. I need someone who’s walked the road.
There are times when leadership and parenting alike can give you an overwhelming sense of making it up as you go along. Let’s face it, we are all just flying by the seat of our pants. And if you disagree with me, you need to get out more. I need someone who’s been there, who can tell me that what we’re going through is totally normal, or at least that I’m not doing the terrible job I fear I might be. I need someone who can tell me what worked for them, not in a way that feels formulaic, but in a way that gives me some signposts or principles to follow. I need someone who will take my frustrations and my joys, my tears and my successes, and hold it all in perspective.

3. I need someone who will celebrate the small things.
I’ll always remember the older missionary dude who told us that the key to pioneering is to celebrate the small wins. I’ve come to believe that this is the key to much of life. In parenting and in leadership, there is always much to improve or work on, more progress to be made. The uphill grind can be exhausting. Taking moments to celebrate small achievements really helps to energise us, to fill our tanks for the next stretch, and to shift our perspective from what we still have to do to how far we have already come. It helps enormously to have someone who will initiate or take part in our celebrations, who will remind us that we are moving in the right direction.

4. I need someone to remind me of the big picture.
When we are knee-deep in parenting or leadership, there is so much going on that requires our attention. And if not our full attention, then at least that glance out of the corner of our eye while we do ten other things. With our immediate perspective so arresting, it is hard to take time to step back and remember the big picture. A good mentor can remind us that whatever season we are in, it is just a season and will pass. They can remind us of the broader stretch of our lives. They might tell you that date night with your husband matters even when the kids are going crazy, because when they leave he’ll still be around and it helps to like each other. Or that taking time out for training is a vital part of your personal development because you won’t have this role forever. 

5. I need someone who turns up when I need them. 
If this is a person who can babysit while you take that date, or stick around while you attend that training, wow, what a difference that makes. It’s easy for people to tell us we shouldn’t feel indispensable but, when it comes down to it, that feeling can be hard to avoid when you’re a parent or leader. Having someone who once in a while will hold the fort to give you some breathing space, that’s huge. I think this translates into them caring about the people I care about; having someone who I know cares about my kids as much as I do and cares about my team as much as I do, that helps me trust their desire and ability to help. It makes it easer to ask for help when I need it.

6. I need someone who’s more committed to who I am than what I do.
When nearly everyone around me sees me in my role as parent or leader, I need someone who sees Miranda and who reminds me that I am more than either of those roles. A loving guide who helps me to laugh at myself is invaluable, who reminds me that who I am becoming is the seat from which all my doing flows, and who helps me stay grounded and well-rounded in my approach to life.

It’s funny, I’ve always thought of grandparents as being all about the grandkids. More and more I wonder if the greater part of being a grandparent is to champion the parent, to help them play their part well, and to keep calling both parents and grandkids up into the fullness of the bigger family story. 

For now, maybe thinking about grand-parenting is getting a little ahead of myself. I guess I will focus on doing this parent thing well, and let the oldies worry about the rest for a little while longer.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Health Warning: Travel Ahead!

Last week we were in the UK for a family gathering. The week before I was in Morocco to lead a women’s retreat. Tomorrow Tim hops over to London for an overnight meeting. Travel is relatively straightforward - give or take the odd RyanAir debacle - yet I wonder how it affects our bodies and souls.

Within hours, we leave the place we call ‘home’ - the place where we’ve created space to contain our daily routines, our everyday connections and whatever is our normal - for another place. And however familiar that other place is, it is not where we are rooted. 

However much we take travel for granted, it shakes us out of our rootedness.

This week, I have had conversations with a couple of friends that makes me think this is a universal experience. One was bemoaning being out of sync with the rhythms that make her feel healthy. Away from home, she is missing the place she’s set up for her morning exercises and she wonders why it’s harder to stick to healthy food choices. It’s funny, but somehow being away from home can give us the mistaken idea that our choices are without consequences, like a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card that erases all the fast food and sitting around as soon as we get home again. She’s feeling lethargic and moody but still finding it so hard to insist on healthy practices in a new place, with different demands and limiting realities.

I came back from the UK visit ready for a 3 day juice cleanse! After days of ‘Ooh, must try that cheese!’ and ‘Let’s open another bottle of wine!’ my body was screaming for rest from all the foods I am usually much better at avoiding. There is something about social situations, about having treat foods too easily available, and especially about not having our ‘ideal’ choices around, that makes us throw our hands in the air and forget our healthy practices all together.

The other friend got to the heart of the matter when she expressed how hard it was to maintain life-giving spiritual practices when travelling. Away from home, where she’s able to determine her own schedule and where she has a particular quiet spot in the house to sit and read, journal or pray, it is so much harder to carve out the space to be still. Often when we are staying with family or friends, or when we have co-workers staying in the room next door or breakfast is a communal affair, it is hard to find the inner stillness necessary to enjoy our moments alone. We miss opportunities to tend to our own souls and our inner world becomes overly noisy and distracted.

During our time in the UK, our days were filled with family events as we sought to maximise the opportunity to be with family members we hadn’t seen for years, as well as those we see more often. Sharing the house with my sister, her husband and two kiddos, the only quiet place was on my bed and even there I felt all my attention drawn towards what was going on beyond the closed door, sensitive to the desire to help out in some way, or to show my face before her husband left for work. It felt difficult even to get out for a run or a walk, simply because I was aware of the need to get the day underway, to cross town to meet up with my brother, or to straighten the house before my parents visited.

All this is a really normal part of being outside our own home environment. So how can we find ways to see travel times as integral to normal life, rather than dismissing them as blips of unintentional living that somehow won’t catch up with us. Here are some ideas:

1. Know your schedule ahead of time.
If you have a bit of an idea what your days will look like, I recommend making a plan before you leave home. When will you exercise and what will you do? What could you take with you to make that easier? There are tonnes of really accessible apps  (like the one here)or online workouts that require no equipment - you still have to decide to do them though! Planning ahead makes it much more likely that you will.

2. Create your environment.
I have found it really helpful, when I travel, to re-create my favourite contemplative corner from home. This might be as simple as taking a scented candle to light as you begin your time of reflection, or a postcard of a meaningful image. If you have a well-established practice at home, it will help a lot when you travel. Again, there are many tools you may keep on your phone, as well as taking your current journal with you as part of your regular soul care.

3. Go for a walk.
In most places we travel, getting out for a walk is the simplest way to get time alone. Moving your body and making sure you take some deep breaths will do wonders for your body and mind. If you are in a place with beautiful scenery, it is even more likely that walking will refresh you and help you get a sense of perspective. Rather than hoping that you’ll fit a walk in somehow, it helps to make a plan as soon as you have your schedule. A daily walk can be a life-saver, offering time to pray or reflect as well as exercise.

4. Make use of audio books and podcasts.
Sometimes, when I am on a busy or emotionally distracting trip, I find it hard to settle sufficiently to read or reflect. At these times, it has been hugely helpful to have audio books and podcasts available on my phone (not only that, but for some reason people tend to leave you alone when you have headphones in!). I especially like Ruth Haley Barton’s series on Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership because, in addition to thoughtful content, each episode concludes with a reflective practice and a prayer. Being guided in prayer and reflection is helpful when we are feeling limited in our own capacity to enter that settled space.

5. Practice deep-breathing or meditation.
Even a few minutes of silence and paying attention to our breath can enlarge our capacity to hold whatever the day might bring us. I know many of us are leery of the idea of meditation, as though it were some eastern and inherently non-Christian practice. But in fact the psalmist speaks on many occasions of ‘meditating on my bed’ and ‘meditating on the word of the Lord.’ I believe that we can ascribe our own meaning to short times of focused attention. We can do this by gazing at an image that has special significance for us, or by setting aside a short, measured time for silent and focused attention on a scripture or prayerful phrase. This app can be helpful.

These are some of the things that help me to maintain life-giving rhythms when I am away from home and my normal environment. I find that when I give myself permission to make these practices a priority, I am better able to give myself to the opportunities and demands that are ever-present when travelling for work or family commitments.

I hope you find these ideas helpful. Those of you who travel regularly, what do you find most challenging about travel? (Perhaps all the goodies in the hospitality basket?!) What tricks and tools have you found most helpful?