Recently I did two separate meditations that had me envision my feet basically melting into the ground to form roots. In the first, I was envisioning myself on the sand, feet sinking into the ground as the waves crashed around my ankles.
The second one had me imagine myself in a wooded, grassy area, feet sinking into the furtive soil around me, arms and trunk reaching up to the sky like a tree, spreading out to touch the sky.
I am no expert on meditation, but it’s not lost on me that the people who are experts on meditation often use imagery of foundation and roots, of feet firmly planted on the ground, body unshakeable as the world turns.
Coincidentally, I heard the following from a friend who had recently experienced guiding his teenager through an adolescent misstep: “You have to dig deep, and I mean deep, with these kids to give them the roots they need.”
What struck me about my friend’s statement is that he wasn’t talking about an outward digging for his temporarily wayward child. He wasn’t saying that he needed to dig for roots around his teenager’s feet and spread fertilizer and fix the broken piece of his child’s foundation.
He was referring to his own roots. This father was talking about digging down deep within his own soul to find the right way to guide his teenager.
In the first years of parenting, even though it can feel like a whirlwind with a messy house and no sleep and toddlers throwing themselves on the floor in tantrums, most big things go as we plan and control as we focus on giving our children roots.
In those younger-kid days, I worked on their roots. I chose their clothes and school and activities. I fed and bathed them. I encouraged friendships with people I liked and was conveniently unavailable for friendships of which I didn’t approve.
We had a predictable daily routine. I tried to help them feel the stability of my love and support. I tried to teach them to recognize their emotions and name them. I tried to help them get to know themselves – warts and all – to give them roots.
Then the winds of change began to blow. I have teenagers now who basically turn up their noses at anything I suggest. Activities I – and they – used to enjoy are sometimes rejected. They love me, but they’re moving past the forming roots stage. They are becoming their own trees.
Sure, I can still support their roots in the day-to-day when we cross paths at the table or in the car, but now that they are all teenagers, much of the conflict we might have requires me to look at myself instead of shaking my finger at them (though I still do that, believe me).
Now my work is to look deep inside myself and see why I am triggered by their behaviors and words. I have to think back and remember how I felt as I sailed the rocky waters of adolescence and young adulthood. I have to make sure I’m reacting to them and not to long-ago feelings buried deep within me.
Suffice to say, the root-work occurs in the first years of parenting. Those roots are planted through years of family gatherings and holiday celebrations; snuggling the dog who has storm anxiety; getting a Band-Aid and a kiss for a skinned knee. They are deepened with family vacations, three meals on the table, bike rides to the park, and years of just being there.
For me, I hope their roots were strengthened when they were scared and I helped to soothe them. I hope they were reinforced when they didn’t make a team and I supported them. I hope their roots will hold.
Now, I have to trust their roots and turn my focus inward so that my responses will continue to support instead of ostracize them. When I feel unsteady in my parenting, I can go back to the meditation that has me imagine my own feet in the soil and the roots that have kept me grounded.
I have to dig deep, and I mean deep. My kids are reaching for their own sun and will bear their own fruits. They are growing upward and outward from the roots I have tried to give them, and it’s time for me to step back and let them grow.